Notes: Ryan making positive strides

Notes: Ryan making positive strides

TORONTO -- The road back to the mound is still a long one for B.J. Ryan. But Toronto's sidelined closer has started to take the steps toward his return to the Blue Jays' bullpen.

On Tuesday, Toronto head trainer George Poulis stood with his arms crossed in left field at Rogers Centre, studying each throw Ryan made in a brief round of catch with Toronto pitching coach Brad Arnsberg. Ryan is four months removed from major reconstructive surgery on his left elbow, but the Jays are confident he'll be healthy in time for Spring Training.

"We're not going to race to get him ready, by any means," Arnsberg said. "But his arm slot looked good and the ball was backspinning good. He was cutting the ball just a little bit -- he's got that natural cutter anyway. He looked very good. I was very encouraged."

The short session with Ryan was a continuation of the throwing program that the left-hander began roughly three weeks ago at his home in Dallas. Ryan has built up to throwing lightly from 45 feet and he'll progress to 120 feet over the course of the next month or so.

Normally, the next step after that would be to work off a mound, but Ryan plans on resting for about a month until adding that to his schedule. He doesn't feel there's any need to rush back onto the hill, considering there are still nearly five months remaining until pitchers report to Spring Training.

"I'm right where I need to be," Ryan said. "Once I get stretched out to 120 feet and maybe do a little flat ground, we're just going to kind of shut it down from there. Then, once I crank back up about a month after that, I'm going to pitch like I'm getting ready for spring."

The Blue Jays inked Ryan to a five-year deal worth $47 million prior to last season, and the left-hander went on to post a 1.37 ERA with 38 saves in his first campaign with Toronto. This year, Ryan first felt pain in his throwing arm during the spring, and his season came to an abrupt halt in May, when he underwent Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery.

This season marked the first time in Ryan's career that he spent time on the disabled list or faced any serious arm issues. After the surgery, the 31-year-old pitcher had his arm in a brace for three weeks before finally being cleared to have it removed to begin any kind of rehab.

"It's weird," Ryan said. "When you don't play catch for about three months, it's different. It's not like being off after the year. You feel strong, but it's just not there yet. It's definitely a learning experience.

"We've got a long time before Spring Training, so I'll try not to do too much at once. I'll just take my time to get healthy."

Downs update: Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said that left-hander Scott Downs' ailing right foot was feeling better, but that the reliever still might not be available out of the bullpen. On Monday, Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi said that Downs was suffering from what was believed to be a case of gout.

Prior to Tuesday's game against Boston, Downs threw in the bullpen for a few minutes to test out his foot, which has been bothering the 31-year-old southpaw for a few days. Through 74 appearances, which is the second-highest total in the American League, Downs has a 2.30 ERA with 21 holds and 54 strikeouts across 54 2/3 innings.

Designated slugger: The three home runs by Frank Thomas on Monday gave him 25 this season, moving Toronto's designated hitter into 10th place in the AL. The 25 long balls by Thomas are tied with Jose Canseco (1998) for the second-most homers in a season by a Toronto DH. Entering Tuesday, Thomas' 91 RBIs were tied with Dave Winfield (1992) for the second-highest by a Jays DH. Brad Fullmer tops both categories with 32 homers and 104 RBIs as Toronto's DH in 2000.

Finishing the job: Dustin McGowan's complete-game effort on Monday night upped Toronto's Major League-leading total to 11 complete games this season. Roy Halladay leads the staff with seven complete games, while A.J. Burnett and McGowan have two apiece. McGowan's latest gem was his first nine-inning performance since the right-hander came within three outs of a no-hitter against the Rockies on June 24.

Second to one: On Tuesday, Matt Stairs started at first base for the Blue Jays in his 1,532nd game in the Majors, moving the veteran past Terry Puhl on the all-time list for games played by a Canadian-born big leaguer. The 39-year-old Stairs, who is a native of New Brunswick, may have to settle for second place, considering Larry Walker tops the chart with 1,988 games.

Did you know? Thomas launched three home runs on Monday night to match his career-best mark of four multihomer games in a single season. Thomas also had four multihomer showings with the White Sox in 2000 and 2003.

Quotable: "He's a Texas boy -- just another one. I told J.P. they need to hire more scouts to go down to the state of Texas." -- Gibbons, on Red Sox rookie Clay Buchholz, who threw a no-hitter on Sept. 1

Coming up: Toronto right-hander Jesse Litsch (5-9, 4.37 ERA) is slated to take the hill when the Jays host the Red Sox in the finale of a three-game set at 7:07 p.m. ET on Wednesday at Rogers Centre. Boston will counter with Buchholz (3-0, 1.50 ERA).

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.