DUNEDIN, Florida – Here's what we know when it comes to exactly who will fill out the back of the Blue Jays' season-opening starting rotation: We don't know. At the moment, neither do the decision-makers.
Dustin McGowan is front-and-centre in this ongoing saga, having thrust himself into the conversation with a dominating three-inning performance against the Phillies on Thursday, just hours after manager John Gibbons appeared to pour cold water on the notion.
Here's part of Gibbons' conversation with the media from that day:
QUESTION: "So it seems like (McGowan's) more in the bullpen picture then?"
GIBBONS: "Yeah, yeah. Unless he comes out of nowhere and you know."
QUESTION: "How concerned are you if he went the route and got the innings needed to be a starter, worried about injury with him?"
GIBBONS: "Well, me personally, I was concerned about that. Not everybody was, but I was, because that's where he's had his problems. We think he's beyond that kind of stuff. And, I thought he thrived in the bullpen, I thought that was a good role for him. But he had desire to do it, a lot of people had desire to see if he could do it. Myself, personally, I kind of had some reservations."
On Saturday, Gibbons clarified his stance, saying he's always left the door open to McGowan beginning the season in the rotation.
"I'm concerned about his health but I didn't say we had to have him in the bullpen," said Gibbons. "That hadn't been determined yet. Did I officially say he was in the bullpen?"
McGowan wants to be a starter. He's expressed as much on repeated occasions dating back to the end of last season. But the 31-year-old, whose multiple shoulder surgeries have sidetracked a promising career, admits to having his own hesitations. He's topped out at 47 pitches this spring, the Thursday outing, and plans to throw 65 pitches in a minor league game on Tuesday.
"It's going to be tough, I think," said McGowan. "Anytime you increase by 15 to 20 pitches, it's more stress and I haven't done it in so long I'm kind of eager to see how I feel after."
As of Saturday morning, McGowan hadn't spoken with Gibbons or pitching coach Pete Walker about what's in store beyond Tuesday's appearance. If McGowan feels good the day after his next start, it's believed the plan is to have him throw an 85-pitch outing in a minor league game on Sunday, March 30.
"I have to try it to see if I can do it," he said. "I can't just say in my mind, oh I can do it or I can't do it. So we'll see.
"We'll have to see after the next one, after 65 how I feel," McGowan continued. "It's possible. It all depends on me."
The fact that McGowan is even in the rotation conversation is reflective of a number of things:
First, it's a testament to the injury-riddled player's resolve. McGowan hasn't been a regular starter in the big leagues since 2008.
Second, J.A. Happ entered camp with a job in the rotation but three poor outings later (20.25 ERA) and uncertainty about the status of his back has cast a cloud of doubt; Esmil Rogers is better suited to a long relief role; Todd Redmond is a strike thrower who typically struggles after the first time through the opposition's lineup.
Third, the failure to sign Ervin Santana, or acquire any major league-caliber pitching help via free agency or trade in the offseason, is forcing the Jays into a less-than-desirable decision.
McGowan won't throw a bullpen session before Tuesday in the name of resting up.
"That's one of the things we're kind of discussing," he said. "Would it benefit me more to throw one or not to throw one, to have more days in between to rest? I believe we'll kind of try both at some point to see if I feel better not doing it or if I need a bullpen. It's no big deal though."
Regardless of whether he's a starter or a reliever, McGowan is poised to break camp with the Blue Jays for the first time since 2008.
There's still a week to go, though, and McGowan's been through enough injuries to know he can't take anything for granted.
"We've still got a little bit to go in spring training so let's not jump ahead here," he said, pretending to knock on wood.
Hutchison tosses gem
Drew Hutchison pitched seven innings of one-hit, one-walk baseball in a minor league game on Saturday morning.
The 23-year-old still hasn't officially secured a job in the starting rotation, although it's difficult to believe the impending announcement is anything but a mere formality.
"It was good to get stretched out, get 80 pitches and get up-and-down seven times," said Hutchison. "Those were the two most important things out of the outing."
It's been a rewarding spring for Hutchison, whose positive results reflect the hard work he put in to rehabbing from Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos pursued pitching help in the offseason, both via trade and free agency, but failed to secure an arm. Hutchison watched from afar, unconcerned about what he couldn't control.
"I've always thought I was a guy that could contribute," said Hutchison. "Regardless of what is being talked about anywhere else, it doesn't change the way I prepare for a season."
Janssen on track
Casey Janssen, recovering from soreness in the back of his pitching shoulder, threw one inning in a minor league game on Friday.
The key is the so-called "bounce back," how a guy feels the morning after his outing.
"Good," said Janssen. "Not too bad on the soreness. Those guys were scrappy down there and made me work a little bit. It's good to get a little sore. It's good to get some work in."
While Janssen estimated he threw 21 or 22 pitches, the official line given to the media was 17 pitches and 10 strikes. In his one inning, he allowed a hit, walked one and struck out two.
"I was kind of more pitching, not necessarily to a Double-A Philly team, it was how I would pitch in the game or knowing in a 2-1 count I might throw an offspeed pitch because that's what I going to have to do in two weeks," said Janssen. "It was just here it is, hit it and see what you can do with it. I was pitching and trying to put sequences together."
Janssen's shoulder pain was in a different spot – the back of the shoulder where the decelerator muscles are located – than last year's post-surgery soreness.
The plan is for Janssen to pitch in three spring games before opening day, including two appearances on back to back days.
Reyes leaves early
Shortstop Jose Reyes left Saturday's 9-4 win over the Tigers before the fourth inning.
He experienced tightness in his left hamstring.
Asked quickly whether he was concerned, Reyes said he was fine.
The Blue Jays reduced their major league camp roster be three on Sunday, optioning OF Kevin Pillar to Triple-A Buffalo and reassigning 1B Dan Johnson and P Aaron Sanchez to minor league camp.
Getting buzzed for good cause
Todd Redmond will shave his head on March 26, all in the name of a good cause.
He's supporting Cut for Cure, which raises money in the fight against pediatric cancers.
"I'm going to shave my head to I think a Number One," said Redmond. "I'm shooting for a Two just so I can have a little bit of hair on there."
The aim is raise $50,000. Former Atlanta Braves great Chipper Jones is also involved.
For more information, visit Redmond's Twitter page @redneckred34 or click on the this link.