McGowan had not started a game in the big leagues since May 14, 2014, when he pitched with the Blue Jays. He had right shoulder surgeries in 2008 and '10 and suffered another shoulder injury in '13, so he cannot recover as needed to be a starter. But after the Phillies placed Sean O'Sullivan on the disabled list this week, McGowan returned to the rotation to start in a 9-1 loss to the Marlins.
McGowan, who is not sure if he will make another start next week, allowed two hits, one walk and struck out four in his first three innings. But he walked the bases loaded with one out in the fourth. He acknowledged afterward that he ran out of gas, but he remained in the game and allowed a single to right-center field by Adeiny Hechavarria that drove in two runs and handed the Marlins a 2-0 lead.
Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg pulled McGowan at that point for right-hander Hector Neris, who joined the team this week. Sandberg said he liked the rookie, who made one appearance with the Phillies last season, in that high-leverage situation.
"Just with the right-handed hitters, and he just joined us," Sandberg said when asked why he liked Neris in the fourth. "And to piggyback. Hopefully to get through the fifth or the sixth inning would have been ideal. And keep the bullpen intact."
But Neris hit Marlins pitcher David Phelps with his third pitch to reload the bases. Martin Prado then singled past Phillies third baseman Cody Asche to score two more runs to make it 4-0. The Marlins piled on from there.
Interestingly, the Phillies had left-hander Jake Diekman pitch the eighth inning despite trailing by eight runs and despite the fact he pitched Wednesday. The Phillies have made a point to be careful with Diekman because they feel they are shorthanded with only one left-hander in the bullpen.
Phillies right-hander Jeanmar Gomez pitched the ninth. The Phils touted him as a long man in Spring Training, so he conceivably could have gobbled up the final two innings. He also could have pitched the fourth over Neris. Gomez entered the afternoon with a 2.70 ERA in six appearances.
But Sandberg said Gomez was not a candidate to pitch earlier because he wanted to save him in case he is needed for multiple innings Friday. Phillies right-hander Aaron Harang starts then against the Braves. He is 2-1 with a 1.96 ERA this season, pitching six or more innings in each of his three starts.
"He still remains a length guy for tomorrow," Sandberg said of Gomez. "He's a versatile pitcher for us. He does a nice job. He's a guy that gives us length. To preserve that and have him be our length guy, that's where he really comes into play for us."