D-backs’ Scott McGough feeling more comfortable adjusting to MLB hitters

Jun 1, 2023, 7:06 PM

Scott McGough #30 of the Arizona Diamondbacks pitches against the Texas Rangers during the sixth in...

Scott McGough #30 of the Arizona Diamondbacks pitches against the Texas Rangers during the sixth inning at Globe Life Field on May 2, 2023 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

(Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — The Arizona Diamondbacks signed 33-year-old Scott McGough out of Japan to be a closing option last winter. In his first save opportunity and third outing, he allowed back-to-back solo home runs to surrender a walk-off winner against the San Diego Padres on April 3.

Fast forward to the start of June, and the righty who had not pitched in MLB since 2015 entering the season has the sixth-best WHIP in the majors at 0.94.

He has allowed one earned run over his most recent 14.1 innings pitched, proving himself a consistent late-inning outs getter over the first third of the season.

“He’s been on a great roll,” pitching coach Brent Strom said on Wednesday. “He’s been very valuable to us, multiple innings, getting us through those important innings, which is the sixth and seventh.

“He has a sneaky fastball. He’s got a better feel for a split now. … He got off to a rough start … but he’s been a blessing. He’s really starting to feel accepted here and like he belongs and I mean, this is a guy who had six innings of major league experience prior to coming here.”

McGough has a 2.16 ERA past the opening two weeks of the season with a .118 opposing batting average and .422 OPS. To Strom’s point about the splitter, a pitch he developed in Japan, hitters are batting .093 against it this year.

He spent four seasons in Japan pitching for the Yakult Swallows, becoming the closer in 2021.

Aside from adapting to a slightly different ball, he could not attack MLB batters the same way, which took an adjustment period.

McGough explained that strikeouts were tougher to come by in Japan, but the damage MLB sluggers can do changed how he had to approach at-bats. In Nippon Professional Baseball last year, teams averaged 0.76 home runs per game compared to 1.07 in MLB.

“Every guy can hit the long ball, they can burn you,” McGough said. “Whereas like in Japan, it was more, they’re gonna make contact, right? It’s harder to strike guys out, where it’s a little bit easier here. But at the same time, they can burn you worse here. So there’s kind of like pros and cons to both.

“It’s just kind of figuring out where to throw guys in what part of the zone and just kind of establishing that and then executing it.”

McGough said he is adapting to how to expand the zone, where to throw certain chase pitches and feels he is adjusting well to life as a back-end reliever in MLB.

The D-backs have called his name a lot, as he was one of 14 pitchers in the league with 26 appearances entering Friday. Five of his most recent six outings have been multiple innings, as the closer role has started with Miguel Castro or Andrew Chafin based on matchups.

“I don’t think there was any nervousness or fear or anything like that,” Strom said. “I think he just made some bad pitches and got burnt … but I think he’s very comfortable right now. I’m not saying that he couldn’t close as we go forward. But Castro is doing a pretty good job with him and Chafin in combination doing a pretty good job.”

McGough said he’s open to pitching multiple innings if that’s what is needed. He was tasked to save the rest of the bullpen during Arizona’s 9-8 loss to the Oakland Athletics on May 16, when McGough escaped the inherited runner on second twice before relenting in his third frame.

Strom said he’s not comfortable with the workload of some of Arizona’s relievers like McGough, who is on pace for more than 75 appearances. The most games McGough has thrown in his pro career was 66 in 2021.

The pitching coach’s hope is for longer starts more consistently that put less pressure on the bullpen.

McGough said with a smile he’s happy to throw whenever asked, noting that when you’re pitching well, it just makes you want the ball more.

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