As Long County’s Dustin McGowan prepares for spring training, the right-hander paused to discuss his team’s upcoming season, sketching an idea of what he thinks the Toronto Blue Jays need to focus on to win.
"Well, we have to start hitting, we had the best pitching last season, and everyone knows that the big problem was our hitting," McGowan said.
The Jays did have the best pitching staff in the American League in 2008, allowing a 3.49 ERA. They were tops in hits-allowed with a league-low 1,330.
McGowan’s teammate Vernon Wells spoke recently about the Blue Jays’ statistics in a USA Today article.
"The offense is the big thing. You have to be able to score runs to take the pressure off your pitching staff. You look at the numbers that our pitching staff put up, and they’re unbelievable. We just didn’t hit," said the center fielder.
In addition to his elation regarding the ball club’s solid stats, McGowan said he is very happy with new Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston.
Gaston took over in the middle of last season after John Gibbons was fired. Gaston led the Blue Jays to World Series titles in 1992 and 1993, and has led the team to more wins (499) than any other manager.
Last year, Toronto fell four games below .500, at 35-39, when Gaston came on board. Under his leadership, the team went 51-37, for a .580 winning percentage, and finished the season 10 games above .500, at 86-76.
"He (Gaston) is an incredible teacher, a hands-on manager. He can look at you throw three or four pitches and see something to make you a better pitcher," McGowan said.
The pitcher added, "He’s really an old-school manager."
Despite the team’s strong finish, the Blue Jays ended the year in the fourth spot in the Eastern Division behind the American League champion Tampa Bay Rays (97-65), the Boston Red Sox (95-67), and the New York Yankees (89-73).
"We are in the toughest division, there is no debating that, and if we are going to make the play-offs, we have to stay close," McGowan said. "We can’t fall behind like we did last year, and try to play catch-up, we have to stay close, and when we have our chances, we have to make our move then."
The Blue Jays open their pre-season schedule against the Yankees on Feb. 25. The regular season home opener against the Detroit Tigers is set for April 6.