D-backs RHP Scott McGough credits development of splitter for MLB opportunity

Jan 22, 2023, 3:46 PM
Scott McGough #39 of Team United States pitches during the baseball opening round Group B game betw...
Scott McGough #39 of Team United States pitches during the baseball opening round Group B game between Team South Korea and Team United States on day eight of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Yokohama Baseball Stadium on July 31, 2021 in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan. (Photo by Koji Watanabe/Getty Images)
(Photo by Koji Watanabe/Getty Images)

Scott McGough spent the last four seasons pitching in the Nippon Professional Baseball league in Japan, where he worked on a pitch he believes earned him another MLB chance.

The Arizona Diamondbacks signed the 33-year-old to a two-year deal on Dec. 15 to be a back-end reliever with a dangerous splitter.

“Kind of took in the culture, just tried to pitch and listen to their pitching coaches, and they really helped me with my splitter,” McGough told MLB Radio on SiriusXM last week. “That’s been the difference for me. I think the opportunity the D-backs gave me to come back was because of learning the new splitter.”

General manager Mike Hazen told reporters in December that McGough’s experience as a closer for the Yakult Swallows and his developed splitter were his biggest selling points.

“In this case, we felt like he developed his third pitch, maybe second pitch. Now I feel like we have more comfort taking these risks, jumping into these opportunities,” Hazen said.

The righty last pitched in an MLB regular-season game in 2015 for the Miami Marlins. In six appearances, he relied heavily on the fastball, throwing it 66% of the time, according to Baseball Savant. His second pitch was a curveball, which was touched up by major league hitters at a .571 average.

An effective splitter has been a deadly weapon for MLB pitchers who previously played in Japan, notably Shohei Ohtani and Yu Darvish.

Arizona’s bullpen had the lowest strikeout rate in MLB last year at 19.7% and has been in need of improved stuff and velocity.

McGough had not seen strikeout success in his major league or minor league career quite like during his time in Japan. He struck out 9.7 batters per nine innings in NPB to rack up 80 saves over the four seasons. In his first year with the Swallows, he struck out 8.4 per nine innings — closer to his MiLB mark — but continued to improve.

He also struck out six batters in 4.1 innings for Team USA at the 2020 Olympic Games.

The D-backs recently found success signing a pitcher who spent several seasons overseas in Merrill Kelly and are hopeful of replicating that in their bullpen.

McGough is eager for the opportunity and excited to pitch in front of a defense he heard was called the “no-fly zone.”

“That’s one of the best outfields in baseball,” McGough said. “Those guys are quick, they have great arms, they are great defenders and as a pitcher, that’s music to my ears.”

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