It all paid off Friday night, when the Toronto right-hander earned his first victory since 2008 with an effective and emotional effort at Baltimore.
McGowan allowed five hits over 6 1-3 innings, and the Blue Jays used two unearned runs to beat Chris Tillman and the Orioles 2-0.
Making his second start since September 2011, McGowan (1-1) walked one, hit two batters and struck out two. He had faced the Orioles 13 times previously — going 0-3 with a 6.99 ERA and allowing 50 hits in 37 1-3 innings.
McGowan spent time on the disabled list in each of the last six seasons. He had shoulder surgery in 2008 and 2010 and missed the entire 2012 season. In his debut this year, he didn't make it out of the third inning in a loss to the New York Yankees.
Against Baltimore, however, McGowan allowed only one runner past second base.
"It's kind of a sentimental night, you know, one of those deals," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "He's come a long way and he answered the bell. He had a rough one, his first one, and he bounced back tonight against a good-hitting ballclub. Yeah, it's very rewarding for not only him but for everybody that knows him."
The 32-year-old McGowan couldn't have been much happier.
"I think the most important thing is just feeling good," he said. "I got the opportunity to pitch again and that's all I could ask for. Just trying to make the best of it."
After McGowan left, Brett Cecil got five straight outs and Sergio Santos worked a perfect ninth for his fourth save.
It all added up to McGowan's first win since June 22, 2008.
"He's always been one of the top guys here since he got drafted by the Blue Jays," Gibbons said. "The organization has expected big things out of him. He's had some tough luck along the way. Who knows how the season will finish out? But he's off to a good start, that's for sure."
Tillman (1-1) allowed three hits over eight innings, lowering his ERA to 0.84. But the right-hander received no offensive support from his teammates, who were coming off a three-game series against the Yankees in which they collected 40 hits.
Two throwing errors by third baseman Jonathan Schoop provided Toronto with a 2-0 lead in the fourth. Jose Bautista reached on Schoop's first errant toss and came around to score on the rookie's second misfire. Dioner Navarro followed with a potential double-play grounder, but the relay to first base from shortstop Ryan Flaherty skipped past Tillman, allowing another run to score.
"It's baseball. It could have happened early on in the game when I was missing (pitches) and we wouldn't even be talking about it," Tillman said.
Schoop made no excuses.
"I just like threw it away," he said. "I wish I played better defence for Tillman. He pitched a great game. I'll learn from it, be better tomorrow."
In the fifth, Baltimore hit three straight two-out singles to load the bases for cleanup hitter Adam Jones, who flied out to centre.
"A lot of guys hit balls right at guys. It's just how it is with this game," Jones said. "There will be days when we bloop them and they all find a home, but tonight, nothing. Crickets out there."
McGowan had a lot to do with it.
"You tip your cap," Jones said. "They pitched a good game."
NOTES: Baltimore SS J.J. Hardy missed a fifth consecutive game with back spasms but expects to return Saturday. He received a cortisone shot Thursday and practiced Friday. ... Right-hander Bud Norris returns from a six-day layoff to start for Baltimore on Saturday against Toronto RHP Drew Hutchison. ... Ravens CB Lardarius Webb threw out the ceremonial first pitch. ... Toronto SS Jose Reyes (hamstring) participated in running drills prior to the game. He's expected to run the bases Saturday and then could "head out in the next few days" for a rehab assignment, according to Gibbons. ... Bautista has reached base in all 11 games (13 walks, seven hits). ... Orioles 3B Manny Machado (knee) will get two at-bats in a simulated game Saturday but will not run the bases. ... Toronto leadoff hitter Melky Cabrera singled in the eighth to extend his hitting streak to 11 games. ... Orioles LHP Brian Matusz was absent with an illness and did not show up at the ballpark.Suggest a correction