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Toronto pitcher Dustin McGowan plays long-toss while warming up at the Blue Jays' spring training facility in Dunedin, FL Saturday. (Darren Calabrese/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Toronto pitcher Dustin McGowan plays long-toss while warming up at the Blue Jays' spring training facility in Dunedin, FL Saturday. (Darren Calabrese/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Jays' McGowan provides a boost Add to ...

With Dustin McGowan, the Toronto Blue Jays do not even want to know how fast his pitches are travelling.

That fact that the 27-year-old is back on the mound throwing effortlessly and, more importantly, pain free, is enough to boost the optimism of the American League club that would dearly love to welcome McGowan back to the starting rotation this season.

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McGowan threw a bullpen session here on Saturday morning at the Blue Jays spring training facility for just the sixth time since undergoing shoulder surgery back in 2008, a serious injury that is threatening to derail his Major League Baseball career before it even really got on track.

Afterward, McGowan said all feels fine with his comeback although neither he or the Blue Jays are certain how hard he may be throwing as the club is holding back using the radar gun to gauge his velocity.

"That's a no-no," explained a Blue Jays official. "Guys try to hump up and they hurt themselves."

The Blue Jays are reluctant to use the radar gun on their pitchers, especially those who are trying to return from an arm injury, as it tends to make them want to overthrow trying to push the speed higher.

"That thing as wrecked more arms," Dr. James Andrews, the noted U.S. orthopaedic surgeon who has saved the arms of many a baseball player, once noted.

McGowan is not sure how hard he might be throwing, but doesn't really care at this stage in his recovery.

"Right now I feel pretty good," he said. "I feel like I'm letting it go pretty good. Not quite 100 per cent yet but a couple more bullpens I think I can really start turning it loose."

Today, McGowan had to satisfy himself with throwing the curve ball for the first time in a bullpen setting and he said it felt a bit weird.

"Everytime I grabbed that curveball it feels like I've got a softball in my hand," he said.

The first official workout for pitchers and catchers here at spring training does not take place until Monday, but McGowan lives in the area and has been a fixture at the Bobby Mattick Training Center working to re-strengthen his arm.

Having a healthy McGowan begin the season in the starting rotation would be a huge boost for the Blue Jays, who in the post-Roy Halladay era will be auditioning plenty of young and inexperienced arms here in Dunedin to fill in the gaps.

McGowan believes he has a shot.

"That's what I'm shooting for," he said. "I guess it all depends on not just myself but the decision they make and what's best for me.

"But realistically I'm coming in, I'm going to compete for a job."

A first-round draft pick of the Blue Jays back in 2000, McGowan has experienced plenty of setbacks in his chosen career path.

In 2004 he underwent Tommy John ligament replacement surgery and as he was recovering from that he discovered he was suffering from Type 1 diabetes, the most serious form of the disease.

McGowan began the 2007 season at Triple-A in Syracuse when injuries to the Blue Jays starting staff required that he get called up about a month in.

He would go on to make 27 starts, including one memorable game in Cleveland where he had a no-hitter broken up in the ninth inning, and concluded the year with a record of 12-10.

McGowan entered the 2008 season full of confidence and Blue Jay officials would tell you his arsenal of pitches was comparable to the likes of A.J. Burnett and Halladay.

But in July of that year, McGowan was yanked early from a start against Baltimore on July 8 and on July 31st he underwent surgery to repair the fraying of the labrum in his right shoulder.

His recovery process has been painfully slow and last season the Blue Jays were remarking that McGowan might not ever bounce back.

Just before the all-star break, McGowan started throwing again but his progress was once again halted when he had to have surgery on one of his knees he hurt while jogging.

"I tell you what, I think the knee injury was the biggest blessing there was for me," McGowan said. "At that point I'd just started throwing and it [his shoulder]was aching. I was throwing 45 feet and it was aching.

"And then the next day I had the knee injury and it just give me five or six weeks, no throwing, to rest. Once I had that rest my shoulder felt pretty good. So I'm thinking it really helped."

Since then it has been only good news for McGowan, who admits to having some nagging doubts that his shoulder would ever respond.

"At some point last year when I was down in rehab it just seemed that it would never quit hurting," he said. "My biggest fear was I'd have to go back in and get surgery and who knows what would happen then after that.

"But I've got a good wife keeping me positive and telling me everything would be alright. It's good to have people who believed in me."

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