McGowan's progress puts him in mix for 'pen job

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- If reporters were surprised to find out that Dustin McGowan remains in the picture for a spot on the Blue Jays' Opening Day roster -- and they were -- just imagine how McGowan himself feels.

The right-hander has made rapid progress from shoulder and neck discomfort that sidelined him earlier this spring. As a result, he'll throw off a mound on Tuesday, and manager John Gibbons is not ruling McGowan out from a bullpen job to begin the year.

"It was a little bit of news to me too," McGowan said. "I'm going to get off the mound this next week and see how things go from there."

McGowan has begun throwing on flat ground, and that work has progressed well. He missed the entire 2012 season due to foot and shoulder injuries and hasn't pitched in a Major League game since September 2011. He has been a starter for the bulk of his career, but according to Gibbons, he could make the '13 Blue Jays as a reliever.

"He's in the picture," Gibbons said. "There's a chance he could make the team in that middle role. But it's getting to the point that we've got to get him on the mound quickly if that's going to happen."

McGowan has dealt with a litany of injuries throughout his career. He made more than 19 appearances in a season once in his career, when he went 12-10 with a 4.08 ERA in 27 starts in 2007.

"Just to get off the mound, I'm very excited, but I'm also a little nervous too because it's been so long," he said. "We'll just see how things go Tuesday.

"I'm feeling good. A lot better than I thought I would right now. Especially after I had that little setback not too long ago. It just turned out to be something minor, like I hoped it would, and we'll move forward."