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Phillies' Dustin McGowan gives it his best shot at a spot starter

In first start since last May for Toronto, the righthander holds Marlins at bay for three innings, struggles in the fourth.

Catcher Cameron Rupp talks things over in the fourth inning with pitcher Dustin McGowan. (Steven M. Falk/Staff Photographer)
Catcher Cameron Rupp talks things over in the fourth inning with pitcher Dustin McGowan. (Steven M. Falk/Staff Photographer)Read more

FOR A GUY who was given no more than 24 hours to prepare for his first start in more than 11 months, Dustin McGowan did the job of a spot starter yesterday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park.

The 33-year-old former first-round pick didn't allow a run in his first three innings against the Marlins. McGowan struck out the first two batters he faced, and kept at it, sending Giancarlo Stanton down on strikes in the third inning, too.

"He looked sharp early on," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said.

McGowan ended up being charged with four runs in 3 1/3 innings in the 9-1 loss to Miami, but he wasn't helped by his defense, while also walking three of four batters in the Marlins' four-run fourth inning.

"That was the main goal to the start out with, go as long as I could, to give them as much as I could," McGowan said. "I wish I could've given them more, but it is what it is . . . All of the balls I threw in that fourth inning, I didn't have it."

McGowan, signed as a free agent two days before Opening Day, threw 76 pitches. Coming into the day, he hadn't thrown more than 28 pitches in a game since May 14 of last season.

McGowan struggled as a starter in the first month of the season with Toronto in 2014 (5.08 ERA in eight starts) and didn't sound convinced he'd be able to give the Phillies much more in terms of pitches, if he's asked to take the mound again when that spot in the rotation would come around again.

McGowan pitched in place of Sean O'Sullivan, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list with left knee tendinitis. O'Sullivan was filling the fifth starter spot that eventually will go to Chad Billingsley, who has been limited to two games in the last two years after elbow surgeries and likely won't be finished his minor league rehab assignment for another two weeks.

So does McGowan expect to start again?

"I have no idea what their plan is," McGowan said. "We'll see what happens."

Sandberg said none of the organization's young arms was considered for yesterday's starting assignment. Which means you can probably eliminate the prospect-filled Double A Reading rotation, currently led by righthander Zach Eflin (2-0 with 14 shutout innings in two starts).

The pickings are a bit slim at Triple A.

Joely Rodriguez, the lefthander acquired in the December trade that sent Antonio Bastardo to Pittsburgh, showed off a live arm in spring training, but walked 11 in his first three starts with Lehigh Valley. Severino Gonzalez had a rough outing two starts ago, and lefthander Adam Morgan, who missed all of 2014 following shoulder surgery, has been average thus far in 2015 (0-2, 4.50 ERA, nine strikeouts and four walks in 16 innings).

Billingsley, meanwhile, said he was on tap to start at Lehigh Valley tomorrow. He could be ready to jump into the Phillies rotation the weekend of May 8-10, when they return to Citizens Bank Park following a 10-game trip through St. Louis, Miami and Atlanta.

The open, fifth spot in the Phillies rotation, currently being filled by McGowan, comes up next on Tuesday in St. Louis.