McGowan looking to turn corner with Blue Jays
Right-hander aiming for spot in rotation after successful stint in bullpen
LONDON, Ontario -- Dustin McGowan has officially been given the go-ahead to once again work toward becoming a starter for the Blue Jays.
Effective out of the bullpen for the club north of the border last season, posting a 2.45 ERA through 25 games and 25 2/3 innings with 26 strikeouts, the right-hander expressed a desire late in the year to someday pursue a spot in the starting rotation.
"I have been [preparing] all winter as a starter, but I wasn't sure until recently if it was going to happen or not," McGowan said. "Now that I've gotten the OK to try it, I've been doing a little more. ... There's not much difference -- I still do the same workouts. It's just a little bit more running now to try to be able to last a little bit longer in the game."
The big concern for McGowan's move is, of course, the threat of injury. Since signing with the Blue Jays in 2000, the Georgia native has had Tommy John surgery, a knee operation, multiple shoulder surgeries and a bout of plantar fasciitis.
Because of his injury woes, in the five years preceding last season, McGowan appeared in just five big league games. After each injury, the righty has had to make adjustments, but he believes he's figured it out now.
"There have been a lot of changes," McGowan said. "I might not throw bullpens in between games now just so that my arm can bounce back, and I don't know if I'm going to ever be able to do that again. That's one thing that I still tinker with every now and then and it just depends on how I feel. ...
"A little bit changes each time; it just depends on how I feel that week. Like after a start if I'm real sore, I won't throw. If I'm not, I will. It's kind of important sometimes to find it; to work on stuff in between."
The biggest change in McGowan's routine since the beginning of last season has been his work with Jamie Evans' Velocity Program. While the goal of the weighted-ball training program is most often to increase a pitcher's velocity, it strengthens the muscles around the shoulder as the means to that end, which McGowan has found incredibly helpful.
"It's been great for me," McGowan said. "My whole thing about doing it was -- people do it to gain velocity. I had the velocity. I knew it was in there. My whole thing was just feeling good. I wanted to feel good. And the training has helped with that."
Though there have been times over the years when McGowan has felt strong, the oft-injured pitcher has never felt better than he did during the most recent season.
"I actually felt pretty good last year," McGowan said. "When I was pitching out of the bullpen -- that was the first time I've stayed strong and felt good, pretty much, kind of the whole season."
Reluctant to place too much emphasis on his short bout of success for "pretty much, kind of" an entire year, it's much easier for McGowan to realize how many doubts he's overcome.
"I've had a lot of [unsure] moments," McGowan said. "After each surgery, in the back of your mind there's always the 'what if' thoughts -- what if my arm doesn't come back, or what if there's still pain? But I've gotten through that so far."
The 31-year-old's confidence has certainly been helped by the support of his family, but McGowan knows that in any other organization, he might not have been fortunate enough to be granted all of the opportunities that Toronto has given him.
"Sure has helped," McGowan said. "I don't think any other team would have been putting up with it, but they've been pretty good about it."
Without any outside additions to the Blue Jays' starting staff this offseason, the rotation has yet to be determined, which could potentially open up a spot for McGowan if all goes well as he ramps up his workingload.
"I don't think it puts pressure on," McGowan said. "I've still got to see if I can even [be a starter] again. We're going to go at it slow and there are no guarantees that it will work, but if I can do it, then it will put a little pressure on me. Then I've got to start competing and try to win a spot."
McGowan won't be on the same timeline as other starters, in terms of innings. Instead, he will be working his way up at a much slower pace. And if it doesn't work out, he is confident he can continue his success in the back end of Blue Jays games.
"Not in spring," McGowan said. "We talked about going as slow as possible, just like crawling before you start walking. There's no sense in even rushing. It's a long spring so if we go slowly and it works, we can build up to where we need to be by the time the season starts. But if not, it's easier to transition back to the bullpen."
Alexis Brudnicki is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.