Diamondbacks Reliever Scott McGough and His Return to the Majors

Scott McGough celebrating the final out.
(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

Scott McGough and His Return to the Majors

MIAMI, Apr. 16 — Bullpens tend to have a high turnover rate, and that has been especially true with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Of the relievers currently on the roster, only two remain from as recently as 2019, with one — lefty Andrew Chafin — returning this season after two and a half years away. (Editor’s note: The other pitcher from 2019, the one who stayed in the system the entire time, is Kevin Ginkel.) Part of the offseason overhaul in preparation for 2023 was the signing of Scott McGough, one of the top closers in the Central League (Japan) over the past two seasons.

The transition back to the majors has been “pretty good,” according to McGough. He added, “I’ve been super lucky because I feel like I got on a good team. The other pitchers and the coaches have been awesome.” In addition, they’ve shown McGough some nuances specific to the team such as how they travel. McGough also likes having Mike Fetters — who pitched 16 seasons in the majors, all in relief — as a bullpen coach. “It’s nice having a veteran like Fett in the bullpen. He knows exactly what he’s doing out there (and has) been super helpful.”

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Differences in the Game

Since 2015, the last time McGough pitched in the majors, the major league game has changed a lot. He said, “Guys swings are different. The scouting is more intense. Everybody knows what everyone has. There is so much more video and so much more analytics that everyone has.”

The most apparent difference between the major league game and Japanese baseball has remained the same for years. “In America, it’s a power game. It’s throw hard, hit it far. Everybody’s trying to drive the ball, and you’re looking at slugging percentage. In Japan, it’s more of a finesse game. They’re trying to make contact, not strike out, hit and run, bunt the guy over. It’s two different styles of games.

“But Japan is kind of changing. It’s evolving. The four years I was there, I definitely saw an evolution. Guys were getting more power in their swings. They’re being taught differently. The training side of it was changing, and it’s more of (an) American style. So it’s definitely changing and getting closer. As you saw in the WBC…they hit it just as far as the Americans do. They swing it just as hard as Americans do and throw just as hard as they do.”

The Development of Scott McGough in Japan

Pitching in Japan helped his development as a pitcher “a ton.” McGough went into more detail: “They showed me multiple things, (such as) a new grip on a pitch or how to throw a pitch I already threw. Also building some confidence of how things work off each other. They had some really good coaches over there that helped me a ton, too. I was super fortunate to go over there, learn, and then come back here and help the D-Backs. It’s been awesome so far.”

Pitching in a foreign land where he didn’t speak the language had its obstacles, but there wasn’t a complete language barrier. Some of the coaches — including his bullpen coach — spoke English. With those who didn’t, McGough had interpreters. In addition, McGough’s manager — Shingo Takatsu — pitched for the Chicago White Sox in 2004–05 and the New York Mets in 2005. “He was amazing,” McGough said with a smile, “and super instrumental in me getting acclimated to Japan. His wife is an English teacher, so she and my wife got along really well. They were great with all the foreigners.”

The Return to the Majors

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So far in 2023, McGough has been up and down. Of his eight appearances, five — including Tuesday night’s 1 1/3 innings in the Diamondbacks’ 8–7 victory over the Cardinals — have been scoreless. However, two of the three where he allowed a run ended up being the dreaded blown save-loss combo. One of those was every reliever’s worst nightmare — allowing runs without recording an out. Conventional wisdom around some baseball pundits and commentators says, “Hey…if you’re going to have a night like that, get it out of the way early.” McGough, after saying “There’s no good option” for a game like that one, partially agreed. “Maybe get it out of the way early. Because at the end of the season, every game is important. You’re really counting it down.”

However, he brought up another point. “But at the beginning of the year for me, I’m a new guy trying to make a name for myself on the team. (I’m trying to) have my teammates respect me. I want to do the best job I can.” He went on to say that if a new player blows one early on, managers and coaches — since they’re human like everyone else — might be hesitant to use said player in big moments. However, he hasn’t felt like it’s happened in Arizona. “These guys have been great to me, and they’ve been super helpful. Everybody has my back, and it’s been amazing so far.”

Regardless of the differences between the Japanese Leagues and Major League Baseball, an overriding factor has remained the same. “At the end of the day, it’s an execution game,” he explained. “You have to execute your pitches and hope for the best.”

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Evan M. Thompson, Editor-in-chief

Evan M. Thompson, Editor-in-chief

Evan is the owner and sole contributor of Thompson Talks, a website discussing the Big Four North American Pro Sports as well as soccer. He also is a credentialed member of the Colorado Rockies press corps. His first and biggest love is baseball.

Evan lives in Gilbert, Arizona and loves history, especially of sports. He is the treasurer for the Hemond Chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) and also is a USSF and AIA soccer referee. He released his first book, Volume I of A Complete History of the Major League Baseball Playoffs, in October of 2021.

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