WASHINGTON - Kyle McGowin began pitching in college in 2011, broke into the minor leagues two years later and made his Major League debut with the Nationals in 2018.
For every team he has played for, from rookie Orem in the Angels’ system to Double-A Harrisburg in the Washington system, the right-hander made at least one start — until last season.
McGowin, 29, pitched in nine games last year – all out of the bullpen – for Washington. And if all goes well, he may never start a game again now that he is armed with a plus-slider that can make him a weapon in the already impressive Nationals’ bullpen.
“It is a normal off-season for me,” McGowin told Federal Baseball from Florida last week. “I just started throwing bullpens and getting ready for Spring Training.”
Like many in the sport, he hopes Spring Training starts on time with the pandemic still raging in many parts of the country.
“All I know right now is that my report date is to be on time” in mid-February, said the Long Island native, who was drafted by Los Angeles (AL) and then traded by the Angles to the Nationals with Austin Adams for infielder Danny Espinosa after the 2016 season. “I am just hoping for the best.”
The right-hander fanned 16 batters in 11 innings last year and posted an ERA of 4.91 for manager Dave Martinez.
He struck out four batters in two innings against Atlanta on Sept. 12 and in his next outing four days later he got all three outs on strikes in one inning against Tampa Bay.
“I am able to focus on the strength of my slider and other pitches,” he said. “I am just trying to re-build myself as a different pitcher than in the past.”
McGowin has been working out six days a week at the Cressey Sports Performance in West Palm Gardens, not far from the Spring Training home of the Nationals in West Palm Beach.
Other pitchers who work out there include Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin, Austin Voth – and new Washington reliever Brad Hand.
McGowin ran into Hand on Jan. 23 at the Cressey facility. The lefty was a former starter for the Marlins who discovered a second career out of the bullpen. Hand had a league-high 16 saves for Cleveland in 2020 and then became a free agent.
“I jokingly said, ‘Why don’t you just sign with us?’ Then the next day I saw that he did,” McGowin said on Jan. 25.
McGowin was also glad to see the Nationals signed veteran first baseman Ryan Zimmerman and left-handed starter Jon Lester, who had been with the Cubs.
Lester won a World Series with the Cubs while Zimmerman did the same with the Nationals in 2019.
“Zim is Mr. National. He is the face of the position players,” McGowin.
McGowin, the former Savannah State player, has been impressed with the job done by general manager Mike Rizzo this winter.
“Rizzo has been doing amazing at his job,” McGowin said.
“That is why he is still here and he won a World Series. Any time you can add veteran pieces – past All-Stars and past champions – to do what he is doing has been amazing.”
“The NL East right now is very competitive. Every team in the NL East has upgraded,” McGowin said.
McGowin was home over the holidays in New York but plans to be in Florida until Spring Training begins.
He also reflected on the recent death of Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, the former Braves’ star.
McGowin saw the Braves in person as a college student in Georgia – but saw Aaron long before that.
“I got his autograph when I was about 14,” McGowin said of Aaron. “My father took me to a sports memorabilia show in the New York area.”