“In Spring Training they called me in and told me about my slider,” Kyle McGowin recalled in a post game Zoom call after his 2020 debut back on September 5th.
McGowin, 28, started in two of his first 12 big league appearances, and 126 of 134 games in the minors, but this year the Nationals wanted the right-hander to focus on one thing while he worked as part of the 60-Player Pool in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
“They love it a lot,” he was told of his slider. “So they wanted me to focus on using that as a weapon, more so than in the past, as a reliever, so I dedicated the whole time in Fredericksburg learning how to pitch with that pitch all the time, and pitch often with it.”
McGowin started the 2020 campaign at the club’s Alternate Training Site, and he plugged away while the big league club called up a number of pitchers to help the bullpen.
He was not fazed by the fact that it wasn’t his name that was called, however, in spite of the fact that he had an experience advantage over some pitchers who got the opportunities to make their MLB debuts.
“It’s a new year for me, new role, I had to learn it,” McGowin said.
“So I just took my time down there, tried to find every little detail I needed to work out on, and just run with it.
“Obviously, guys were coming up ahead of me. But I still needed to work on stuff. So I couldn’t take it as a bad thing, I just wasn’t ready yet, and hopefully everything is going now.”
In his first big league appearance of the season, McGowin tossed 2 1⁄3 scoreless, walking one and striking out four of the eight batters he faced.
“We talked to him about what makes him good,” manager Davey Martinez said after that initial appearance out of the bullpen, “and a testament to him, he went to Fredericksburg and worked on it and got very consistent on throwing his sliders, he’s got two or three different speeds on his sliders, and he also started throwing a better fastball from that. So I really loved what I saw the other day in Atlanta, so hopefully he can continue to do that.”
“Everything they’re seeing, they’re liking,” McGowin said. “So I’m doing something right, finally, and just keep doing what I’m doing.”
After retiring three of five batters in 1 1⁄3 IP in his next two outings, both against Atlanta, the righty faced the Braves again this past weekend and tossed two scoreless, striking out four of the six batters he faced on 30 pitches, while generating seven swinging and three called strikes with his slider.
In that outing, he followed Patrick Corbin’s seven innings on the mound. Corbin recorded 11 swinging and five called strikes with his slider in that outing, before McGowin came on from the right side for two innings.
Corbin, who’s thrown 40.1% sliders this year, (to McGowin’s 75.3%), talked following his own outing about what he’s seen from the reliever so far since McGowin returned to the majors.
“You see some of the swings that he’s getting,” Corbin said, “... he’s throwing sliders in the zone that are freezing them for strikes, so that’s good to see, and his wipeout slider, a lot of swing and miss, and I think these guys had — they know what he’s throwing, it makes that fastball a lot better when he throws that slider for a strike.
“Obviously he has a swing and miss slider, and then able to locate a fastball. It’s good to see him come up and throw strikes.”
The ability to throw his slider for strikes, Corbin said, is one of the keys to McGowin’s early success.
McGowin has a 55.9% Whiff% so far this season (swinging strikes per swing) and Putaway% of 34.6% (rate of two-strike pitches that result in a strikeout).
“It looks like he fools them when he throws it for a strike,” Corbin said. “I think that’s a good sign of a really good slider, that you’re throwing it in the zone, and locating it in the strike zone and keeping them off-balance and then you’re almost forcing them to swing later in the at bat when he throws a better one.”
McGowin was clear after his initial outing that he has no issues leaning heavily on his slider since it’s working for him so far.
“It’s my comfort zone,” he said. “My slider is my favorite pitch, I never have a problem not throwing it. The more they want me to throw it the happier I’m going to be, honestly.”