Veteran righty beats out competition; Happ ticketed for DL stint to begin season
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- For the first time in six years, Dustin McGowan has made a 25-man roster at the end of Spring Training, and this season, it's as the Blue Jays' No. 5 starter.
Toronto named McGowan to its rotation on Wednesday morning. He beat out J.A. Happ, Todd Redmond, Esmil Rogers and Marcus Stroman to earn the start in the Blue Jays' home opener vs. the Yankees on April 4.
The decision writes another chapter in McGowan's improbable comeback story after it appeared he was going to be out of baseball following three shoulder surgeries and seemingly endless stints on the disabled list.
"I always had the resolve to push through," said McGowan. "There's no quit in my blood. There were times I thought it may not happen anymore, but it wasn't going to be from a lack of trying. That's why I kept pushing hard -- for moments like this."
McGowan entered Spring Training as a longshot to make the rotation. Happ was the clear favorite, and Redmond, Rogers and Stroman were waiting in the wings should he have faltered. But nobody from that group emerged as a viable candidate, and that opened the door for McGowan with just two weeks remaining in camp.
The Blue Jays understandably have been cautious with McGowan and are still getting him stretched out before the start of the regular season. McGowan threw 62 pitches in a Minor League outing Tuesday, and he is expected to increase that number to 75-80 later this week. That should be enough to put McGowan in the range of 90 pitches for the home opener, but he'll be closely monitored his first couple of starts.
McGowan, who spent last season as a reliever, has long stated his desire to once again become a starter, but the odds were stacked against him. He appeared to be ruled out for that role by manager John Gibbons less than two weeks ago. A lot has changed since then, though.
"I expressed it last year that this is what I wanted to do," said McGowan, who has a career 4.65 ERA in 105 games. "I knew it was a longshot, but you have to give it a shot. If you don't give it a shot, you're not going to be able to do it, anyway. Starting is something I've done my whole life, and I just wanted to get back to it."
The biggest uncertainty surrounding McGowan is whether he'll be able to stay healthy. McGowan suffered a major shoulder injury in 2008. After multiple surgeries, it wasn't until 2011 he was finally able to make it back to the Majors.
McGowan entered camp in 2012 as the favorite to win the final spot of the rotation. That was derailed when he injured his foot and then later re-injured his shoulder and required yet another surgical procedure. He missed the entire season, and when he returned the following year, it was out of the bullpen.
The result is that McGowan has spent only several months in the big leagues since 2008, with just 46 2/3 innings over that time. But the fact remains he's a pitcher who hits mid-90s on the radar gun and has the highest upside of the previous contenders for a starting role.
McGowan fully admits if there's even the slightest bit of discomfort in the coming weeks, the veteran righty will inform his coaching staff.
"I don't want to go through anymore of that stuff, so if there's any kind of discomfort, I'll know what's right and what's not," said McGowan, who hasn't started since Sept. 26, 2011. "I've been through it enough; I can pretty much know what's going on, so I can be honest with them."
The Blue Jays' decision means that Rogers and Redmond are starting the year in the bullpen. Happ is headed for the 15-day disabled list with a sore back -- a surprise, because the left-hander had been insisting the past several weeks that he was perfectly healthy.
Happ started the spring with a supposedly guaranteed job, then proceeded to post a 20.57 ERA in four starts as he had trouble commanding the ball. Even when Happ was in the zone, his pitches weren't fooling a lot of opposing hitters.
There's no timetable for Happ's return, but a stint on the DL will ensure that he can go on a rehab assignment and work out the kinks before being reconsidered for a role.
"Happ's going to go on the DL," Gibbons said early Wednesday morning. "He had that back issue early on -- it hasn't been a big deal, he's getting better, but it's something we think has limited him a little bit and has affected him. He'll go on the DL, get himself right and then we'll look at it in the near future."