Ryan takes next step in recovery

Ryan takes next step in recovery

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- It was a mix of good news and bad news on Tuesday morning, when a handful of Blue Jays pitchers were scheduled to appear in a Minor League game at the Bobby Mattick Training Center.

Leading the way in the positive department was another strong outing by closer B.J. Ryan, who is attempting to return in time for Opening Day from a left elbow ligament-replacement operation. Barring another round of doctor's orders, the next step in Ryan's recovery is his first appearance in a Grapefruit League contest on Friday.

Toronto starter Dustin McGowan completed a successful four-inning outing against a cast of Minor League hitters, but the same couldn't be said for right-hander Casey Janssen. Originally slated to throw four innings, Janssen cut his warmup session short in the bullpen due to discomfort in his throwing shoulder.

Last season, when Ryan's surgery in May forced Jeremy Accardo into the closer's role, Janssen served as the primary setup man for the Blue Jays, posting a 2.35 ERA in the process. Janssen was in the running for a rotation job this spring, but his latest setback will likely limit him to a bullpen job, whether or not Ryan is ready by Opening Day.

Ryan took another step toward reaching that goal on Tuesday, when the left-hander worked through four batters with 16 pitches, including nine strikes. Ryan induced one groundout, tallied a pair of strikeouts and issued one walk. On Friday, the left-hander is tentatively scheduled to pitch an inning against the Rays in St. Petersburg.

"They said he threw well," said Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi, who was signing veteran reliever Armando Benitez to a Minor League contract during Ryan's outing. "For the most part, he was right on track. I would think [he's set for Friday's appearance], but I have to talk to [pitching coach Brad Arnsberg]. At some point, we have to get him into a game."

The Jays planned on having Ryan pitch in a Grapefruit League game this past Saturday, but Dr. Tim Kremchek -- the surgeon who performed the procedure on Ryan's elbow -- advised the team to wait another week. The Jays complied and Ryan, who stayed between 87-90 mph with his fastball and slider on Tuesday, didn't complain.

There also weren't any complaints from McGowan, who pitched in the Minor League game instead of against the Yankees in Tampa on Tuesday. McGowan said it didn't matter to him who his opponent was, because he wanted to work on a few specific things. If anything, McGowan said the Minor League contest allowed him to focus more on his goals for the latest start.

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"You still have to get your work done," McGowan said. "I think it's easier when you're in a [simulated] game to work on different pitches and different situations. They both have their positives and negatives.

"If that's what they want, I'm all for it -- I don't care. It's Spring Training. I wouldn't have minded pitching [against the Yankees], but this is what they think is best, so I just go with it."

During his four-inning outing, McGowan said he concentrated on honing his four-seam fastball. The right-hander tends to create some minor movement with the pitch, but he's trying to throw it on a straighter line in order to have an offering he can fire for a sure strike. McGowan also mixed in his slider, changeup and curveball during the appearance.

"I wanted to pound my four-seam fastball today -- just pound it and pound it," McGowan said. "I got in a stretch last year where I threw mostly two-seamers. The four-seamer is what got me here, so I have to get back to pounding that and getting ahead with it."

Arnsberg said on Monday that the reason McGowan and Janssen weren't pitching against the Yankees was because New York hosts Toronto in the season's first series. Arnsberg didn't want the Yankees' hitters to have two or three at-bats against the pitchers, when McGowan and Janssen could get the same work in against a Minor League squad.

Besides Ryan, McGowan and Janssen, Toronto also sent relievers Scott Downs, Brian Tallet and Accardo to the Minor League complex for appearances. Ricciardi wasn't sure if it mattered all that much for the Yankees to see Toronto's big league pitchers, but Ricciardi understood Arnsberg's take on the situation.

"I think it's probably more our pitching coach and guys like that," said Ricciardi, when asked if he felt it was important to hide McGowan and the other arms from New York. "They feel that way. I probably subscribe to it more than not. If they don't have to see them, no reason to show them."

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