TORONTO – A strong month of progress by Dustin McGowan has the Toronto Blue Jays wondering if their oft-injured right-hander can make it back to the big-leagues as a starter after all.
Manager John Farrell and GM Alex Anthopoulos said Tuesday that the club is shifting McGowan up to two-inning outings every fourth day to see how his troublesome shoulder handles being stretched out for longer outings.
If he continues to show the increased arm-strength and velocity he’s shown of late at extended spring training – he’s been up to 95 m.p.h. on the radar gun – the Blue Jays feel it may make more sense to try and bring him back as a starter, instead of a reliever.
"I didn’t expect to ever see him being considered a starter again, but he’s made such progress … it may not be the worst thing for him," said Anthopoulos. "It’s exciting. Starting may be better for him because you eliminate the ups and downs of the bullpen, the back-to-back days, it’s a scheduled, structured program where he gets that rest period over so many days."
McGowan has undergone two shoulder surgeries since last pitching in a big-league game in 2008, and has had several stops and starts since. During spring training, the Blue Jays felt his best chance of coming back would be as a reliever, and he’s since focused on one-inning stints.
But Farrell said the plans may change, "because of how strong he’s come back so far. We want to take a look at that because we can regulate all the work a little more routinely."
As for McGowan himself, Farrell said, "he wants to start. Personally, that would be his preference."
McGowan is expected to remain at extended spring training, which runs to the middle of June, before his status is re-evaluated and a course of action plotted.
He could be eligible to begin a rehab assignment at that point, although the Blue Jays could also have him continue to throw simulation games.
Once McGowan begins a rehab assignment, the Blue Jays would have 30 days to activate him, unless they shut down the assignment for a minimum period of seven days because of a setback.
Once ready McGowan must be added to the 25-man roster since he is out of options and cannot be sent to the minors without first passing through waivers.
"If healthy he won’t be on the DL, he’ll be up here," said Anthopoulos. "If he’s perfectly healthy doing well, he will be a big addition to this team, I think that goes without saying, depending on what the role is."
LIND IN SIGHT: Adam Lind took another four at-bats at extended spring training Tuesday and ran the bases with no trouble, bringing him another step closer to a return from the disabled list Saturday in Baltimore.
The tentative plan was for Lind to play with single-A Dunedin on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, getting in at least one game at first base, before potentially coming back from his lower back injury.
Edwin Encarnacion, meanwhile, will be available again for duty Wednesday after having his left big toenail removed Monday. The infielder fouled a ball off the toe twice in a recent three-day span.
Infielder John McDonald is also making progress from his right hamstring injury and is on track for a June 12 activation from the DL.
SNIDER AND CECIL: A steady stream of the Blue Jays’ top evaluators have recently passed through triple-A Las Vegas and they all reported the same thing to GM Alex Anthopoulos: starter Brett Cecil and left-fielder Travis Snider are making progress, but they’re not where they need to be just yet.
Cecil is 6-1 with a 5.89 ERA in seven starts for the 51s, but the big concerns are the 12 home runs and 54 hits he’s surrendered in 44.1 innings.
"There are still some balls up in the zone and I understand the ball flies there but the home runs, and things like that, he needs to get back to having that downhill plane and be down in the zone," said Anthopoulos. "But he’s making strides, he’s improved."
Snider, demoted to shorten his swing to generate more power, is batting .299 in 30 games, with a homer, nine doubles and 23 RBIs.
"He’s starting to make the changes, he’s starting to incorporate them into the swing, but he’s not there yet," said Anthopoulos. "He’s getting there, we’re looking for hard contact … and those are some of the things that are starting to show up more and more."