"I've got a big itch right now to start throwing," McGowan said. "It's driving me crazy every day."
Nearly four months removed from right shoulder surgery, McGowan is simply one doctor's visit away from being cleared to begin throwing for the first time since the operation. After he meets with Dr. Timothy Kremchek, McGowan said he'll likely begin playing light catch within the next week or two.
Beyond that first step, McGowan isn't sure how long it will take to work his way back on a mound during what will be a gradual throwing program. The Blue Jays' decision-makers have speculated that McGowan could be sidelined until at least May or June, but the pitcher is currently keeping a more optimistic outlook.
"I'm always shooting to start the season," said McGowan, who plans on heading to Toronto's spring site in Florida at the beginning of January. "The way I feel now, I feel like I'll be ready. But, from their standpoint, I can understand if they want to take it a little bit slower to make sure everything heals up perfectly.
"But I'm always shooting to start the season. That's my goal."
For now, Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi is steering clear of establishing a timetable for McGowan's return.
"We won't really know until he gets down [to Spring Training]," Ricciardi said, "and starts throwing how he feels and how he is progressing. It'd be really premature for us to say that he's going to be ready on this date. I think we'll have a better idea how he looks and maybe where the timetable is for him down there."
Whenever McGowan rejoins the rotation, the Blue Jays can only hope that it will provide a boost to the pitching staff. As of right now, Roy Halladay and Jesse Litsch are the only known members of the starting staff. There will be a bevy of arms competing for the remaining spots this spring.
Toronto is attempting to re-sign free agent A.J. Burnett, but there are a handful of clubs competing for his services this winter. If the Jays don't retain the hard-throwing righty, Ricciardi has indicated that his team might simply fill the rotation vacancies internally. Helping matters is the eventual return of McGowan.
"We may just be a team that prepares for April," Ricciardi said. "Then, if we get McGowan back in May, we can change the rotation in May. For us to get way ahead of ourselves now would be really foolish."
The Blue Jays are also without Shaun Marcum, who had Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery on his right arm at the end of this past season. Marcum is expected to be out of the picture for Toronto until the 2010 season, creating another hole in the starting staff.
McGowan, who also underwent the Tommy John proedure in 2004, said he recently spoke with Marcum and they discussed the lengthy rehabilitation process. Needless to say, McGowan is all too familiar with offseason rehab programs. It can be a grueling experience that makes a trip to the weight room a welcome change of pace.
"I've been through this before, as far as rehabbing the whole offseason," McGowan said. As far as that, it's been the same as before. It just got to the point where I could start working out with my upper body, so that's been nice to do."
McGowan, who will turn 27 in March, had a debridement procedure performed by Kremchek to repair fraying of the labrum in the pitcher's throwing arm on July 31. During the operation, it was determined that McGowan didn't require further surgery on his rotator cuff -- additional work that would've led to a longer recovery.
That was the good news for McGowan, who finished the 2008 campaign 6-7 with a 4.37 ERA in 19 starts. It was an up-and-down performance that followed a solid showing from McGowan in '07, when he went 12-10 with a 4.08 ERA for the Jays. This past season, it was the timing of the injury that caused the most frustration.
"It was really tough, because we had just started playing really good baseball," McGowan said. "Even after I left, they were playing really good baseball. It would've been nice to have been there to pitch with them and go through that with them. It was tough. I've had a lot of down time, it seems, because it happened so early."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.