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It's Only for the Things that Matter, Only for the Things that Really Count: Keys to the 2010 Season and Beyond, Part XII

This is the twelfth (and final!) part of a series of posts on the keys to the Toronto Blue Jays 2010 season. Part I, where we introduced and laid out all the keys, is here. Most recently, we discussed the growth of the Jays catching prospects, J.P. Arencibia, Travis d'Arnaud and Carlos Perez. This post will focus on Dustin McGowan's return Brandon Morrow.

11. Dustin McGowan -- Dustin McGowan's progress could be a key to the Jays future success, but in 2010, they need to make sure he doesn't push himself too hard. We know about his health issues, so recovery time is a crap-shoot. We'll all be watching him closely. Remember, if Shaun Marcum has the stuff to be a good #3 starter, McGowan has the stuff to be an ace, but even if McGowan stays healthy this year, it's no guarantee he'll be able to start 30 games in 2011 or 2012.

Well, this was supposed to be sort of a wildcard (hence being number 11) and obviously it hasn't worked out. Dustin's out for the season and most recently had arthroscopic surgery and there's still no timetable on when he can start throwing. There really isn't much else we can say about him at this point . . . but we have seen a young man by the name of Brandon Morrow step up and make some strides towards becoming the Jays next ace. So let's look at him instead.

The fifth overall pick in 2005, Brandon raced through the minors and was in the Mariners bullpen by 2007, where over 63 1/3 innings, he showed plenty of promise (66 K) but also showed that he was more than a little rough around the edges (50 BB). He spent most of 2008 in the bullpen but also made five starts and showed some nice signs of growth, pitching about the same number of innings (64 2/3) but striking out a few more (75 K) and drastically reducing his walk-rate (34 BB) to a still-high 4.7 BB/9. 2009 was not a good season for Brandon, the Mariners started him out of the pen but slotted him into the rotation in mid-June only to drop him to AAA Tacoma after three decent starts and three very bad ones. He was promoted back into the major league rotation in September and finished the season on an high note, striking out nine and walking just two, while surrendering just one hit over a season-high eight innings. The Jays acquired him in exchange for Johermyn Chavez and Brandon League last winter.

The Jays, in a rebuilding year, figured that a talent like Morrow's was worth taking a chance on and decided to give him a spot in the rotation to call his own and let him work out his problems without being constantly under the threat of demotion to the minors or the pen. Brandon had a rough (in addition to unlucky) start to the season but he seems to have worked out many of his problems. At first glance, his overall numbers are nothing too special, 5-6, 100 IP, 4.86 ERA, 111 K, 47 BB, 42.5 GB%, but those peripherals are still good for a very solid 3.93 xFIP. What's much more encouraging than that, however, is that if you throw out Brandon's first seven starts (which culminated in an awful 1 2/3 inning, six walk performance), he's been staggeringly good. Over those eleven most recent starts, he's pitched 65 innings (just over six innings per start) and struck out a batter an inning, while walking just 21 (2.9 BB/9). For the sake of comparison, Felix Hernandez has a walk-rate of 2.8 this season and a strikeout-rate of 8.6. Naturally, a major component of King Felix's dominance is his groundball-inducing tendencies (53.5 GB% in 2010), so that doesn't mean that Morrow's been better of late, but he doesn't have to be Felix Hernandez to be a great pitcher.

What we should hope to see the rest of the way is more of what we've been seeing over the last two months. Unfortunately, since he pitched just under 125 innings combined last season (69 2/3 majors, 55 minors), the Jays probably shouldn't be pushing him much past 150 innings or so in 2010. The Jays have announced that he, along with Shaun Marcum and Ricky Romero, will be one of their three regular starters after the All-Star Break, but we'll see how long he actually stays in the regular rotation there. It would be a real shame to see misuse lead to discomfort (or worse) next season. If Morrow does continue to show the progress that we've seen over the last bit, though, we may be looking at our future ace. If Brandon keeps it up, don't be surprised if the Jays try to buy out some of his arbitration years (and possibly even a free agent year or two) this offseason. And get well soon, Dusty.