Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons isn't counting out the possibility that injured pitcher Marcus Stroman will be starting for the big league club before the season is over.
But he's not banking on that, either.
Stroman, the 24-year-old right-hander who tore the ACL in his left knee during spring training, threw off a mound on Tuesday for the first time since before the injury.
While Stroman tweeted on Monday that Dr. James Andrews, who performed the ligament-repairing surgery in March, was "stunned by the progression" he's made with his knee, Gibbons remained uncertain that the young pitcher could return by September.
"We're cautiously optimistic," Gibbons said before Tuesday night's game against the Oakland Athletics at Rogers Centre. "But we can't get carried away here. The kid's got a lot riding on his future."
Stroman, a first-round draft pick of the Blue Jays in 2012, was 11-6 with a 3.65 earned-run average through 26 games, including 20 starts, for Toronto in his rookie season last year.
He's spent the last five months rehabbing at Duke University, where he's also taking summer classes to finish up his degree in sociology.
Gibbons said Stroman will start simulated games by the end of the month but couldn't put a definite timetable on his return.
The Blue Jays manager, who also said he was impressed with video from Tuesday's mound session, wasn't sure if Stroman would have enough time to gradually build up his pitch count to the point where he could start by the end of next month.
A bullpen role, Gibbons suggested, might be more realistic.
"He just threw on the mound for the first time today ... so it might be a little far-fetched," Gibbons said. "I don't want to say no but there might not be anything wrong with him getting out the 'pen either."
"If there was one guy I had to pick (to come back quickly) it would be him," Gibbons added. "But it's been a long time since he's faced hitters."
Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos told TSN radio in Toronto that Stroman would likely be a starter if he returns.
"Right now he'll be stretched out to start. We'll see how many innings we can get out of him, assuming no setbacks," said Anthopoulos. "Minor league season is over Sept. 7 and we'll see how much he's built up by then and hopefully no setbacks at all.
"There's been talks of reliever or starter, if he's totally healthy, our plan is to bring him back as a starter."