DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Dustin McGowan has taken a big step forward in his return to the Major Leagues. Now, all the Blue Jays can do is hope it won't be followed by two steps back.
Toronto's right-hander is once again making progress from a right shoulder injury which has plagued him since 2008. He threw off a mound on Tuesday morning for the first time in almost a year and finally appears to be turning a corner.
The McGowan comeback storyline has played itself out before but the 30-year-old is holding out hope that this time will be different. Despite all of the adversity, he's still holding out hope for the light at the end of the tunnel.
"Went after it a little bit," McGowan said of his first time on the mound. "Have to kind of do it to just to see how you are going to recover.
"I was a little nervous going out there to throw but once you start throwing ... it's like riding a bike again."
McGowan threw approximately 20 pitches and while there wasn't a radar gun in the area, his velocity did seem rather impressive for the first time out. Pitching coach Pete Walker estimated that McGowan was throwing his fastball in the mid-to-upper 80s while also mixing in a couple of change-ups.
The fact that McGowan is back on the mound marks a big development, but his situation remains in doubt until the club sees how he feels over the next couple of days. Walker said while there's a tentative schedule in place for McGowan's rehab it's rather fluid and could change on any given day depending on his level of discomfort.
Walker also likely won't want to reveal McGowan's exact routine for fear of more reports of setbacks if he's unable to go on a particular day. For now, the Blue Jays will take it day by day before eventually moving into a more advanced plan of attack.
"Obviously the slope is a big deal," Walker said of McGowan pitching off the mound. "So I want to see how he feels [Wednesday]. Getting off the slope is a little more taxing on the arm, especially at 80-90 percent.
"We'll see how he feels tomorrow, I think the guys over there saw it coming out pretty good, but I don't want to put the cart before the horse either. I want to see him do that a few more times."
McGowan hasn't been healthy to start a Major League season since 2008. Later that year he underwent the first of what would turn into multiple shoulder surgeries while also having a procedure done on his knees.
The native of Savannah, Ga., appeared to be nearing the end of the line until he took a major step forward two years ago. He endured a lengthy rehab and overcame the adversity to make his return to the big leagues as a September callup.
McGowan entered camp in 2012 as the favorite to win a job in the starting rotation. A minor foot injury marked the first setback, and when he tried to overcompensate for the discomfort by altering his mechanics another shoulder injury ensued.
This spring it was more of the same, but this time it was a neck injury that kept him off the mound. That issue now appears to be a thing of the past and McGowan can only hope that he has made the injuries a thing of the past for good.
"It's a little bit of a surprise," McGowan said of getting on the mound this quickly in Spring Training. "When we had a setback, my neck was bothering me, and you hope it's minor, which you never know, and it ended up being minor. If you look at it like that, it makes sense now, since it was so minor."
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons hasn't ruled out McGowan being considered for a spot in this year's bullpen. That's the official stance by the team, but it would seem extremely unlikely to actually happen for Opening Day.
McGowan will need to throw multiple bullpen sessions before eventually transitioning to a simulated game. That would be followed by at least an appearance or two in Minor League Spring Training games before advancing to face big league hitters. He'd also likely need to be cleared to pitch on back-to-back days to crack the roster.
With less than a month to go before the start of the regular season, McGowan would have to make up for lost time in a hurry. It's possible but not probable and the Blue Jays don't want to force the issue for fear of causing another injury.
"It's going to be difficult, there's no doubt," Walker said. "But the way he looked today was encouraging. I don't want our organizational expectations to get too high on him at this point, but we'll see how he is over the next few days, see how he is on his next side session.
"It's still a long ways off. There is time but that being said we're certainly not going to rush him at this point either. Make sure he feels good and hopefully we'll get him into a game pretty soon."