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Toronto Blue Jays starter Dustin McGowan warms up during the first inning of a spring training baseball game against the Houston Astros in Dunedin, Florida, March 10, 2012. REUTERS/Steve Nesius (STEVE NESIUS)
Toronto Blue Jays starter Dustin McGowan warms up during the first inning of a spring training baseball game against the Houston Astros in Dunedin, Florida, March 10, 2012. REUTERS/Steve Nesius (STEVE NESIUS)

JEFF BLAIR

No time to experiment for Dustin McGowan Add to ...

Dustin McGowan must be tired of the under-lying assertion that he’s playing with house money at this stage of his injury-riddled career.

McGowan, who will pitch for the Toronto Blue Jays Thursday afternoon in a Grapefruit League game in Kissimmee, has started to sound more and more like a pitcher who has moved beyond injury concerns. He is focused now on cementing a spot in the rotation, witness his answer on Wednesday when asked if he would at some point start “working on things,” this spring the way pitchers often do: fiddle around with a new grip. Maybe a different pitch.

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“I have no time to experiment,” McGowan said. “I’m trying to make the team.”

McGowan pitched two effortless innings in his last outing – to the point where he was asked if after 33 pitches he might have wanted to ask manager John Farrell for some extra work in the bullpen. “No,” he responded with a chuckle, “those days are gone.”

Both Travis Snider and Eric Thames will make the trip to Kissimmee, taking their head-to-head battle for left field with them, although it is unknown who will start.

With general manager Alex Anthopoulos saying that 44-year-old Omar Vizquel has shown the arm strength he needed to show to allay fears of his ability to throw from the left side of the infield, this is a roster that is essentially set with the exception of the final three spots in the rotation and a left-hander reliever’s spot. Edwin Encarnacion has worked hard to open the possibility of some time in left field during the season – he would provide a righty-hitting alternative to either of lefty-hitting Snider or Thames – but manager John Farrell cautions against thinking that might open the door for another infielder to make the team. As it is right now, Vizquel, Rajai Davis, Ben Francisco, Jeff Mathis and Encarnacion are shoo-ins for the bench.

The loser of the Thames-Snider battle will go to Triple-A Las Vegas. That much is clear. Less clear is what a demotion would realistically mean for Snider, who must surely think he is approaching the same crossroads reached by Aaron Hill last season: when it becomes obvious that it is time for a change in scenery, and a fresh start.

Anthopoulos has reiterated in recent days that Thames’ status as the incumbent carries considerable weight. He has also been candid that after several false springs with Snider, his Grapefruit League numbers will be judged with a more jaundiced eye this time around. That is appropriate.

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