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Ailing Jays pitchers getting healthier

Ailing Jays pitchers getting healthier

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays are without five starting pitchers due to injury, but that could soon change as left-hander Ricky Romero and right-hander Casey Janssen will both be pitching on rehab assignment in Florida this week, with Jesse Litsch not far behind.

"In a perfect world, by the beginning of June, we'll have a semi-set rotation," Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi said on Monday.

Romero was placed on the 15-day disabled list on April 20 after he strained his right oblique muscle while sneezing, but the left-hander is now pain-free when he sneezes.

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"I have and it feels good," Romero said with a laugh.

The 24-year-old Romero was stellar in his first three big league starts this year, posting a 2-0 record and 1.71 ERA while allowing only 23 baserunners in 21 innings, striking out 13 batters along the way.

Romero said he's been throwing all of his pitches in his bullpen sessions and is encouraged by his progress.

"It's feeling good. It feels like I'm pretty much back to normal," Romero said. "There's no pain, no stiffness, which is a really, really positive sign. I just want to see what it's going to be like when game speed comes up, and hopefully, I can rebound from it -- sitting down, getting up each inning."

Ricciardi said Romero will pitch for Class A Dunedin on Friday and again on May 13, when he will be re-evaluated before Toronto decides how to proceed with his rehab.

"We're going to see what happens -- get him into some competition," Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said. "He might get three [starts in Dunedin]. We just don't want him on the DL again."

Romero was originally down to throw in a bullpen session on Monday, but it was pushed back to Tuesday for scheduling reasons. The team moved Romero's scheduled start in Dunedin to Friday due to the fact that Janssen's next turn falls on Thursday.

Janssen -- who went on the disabled list on March 27 with soreness in his right shoulder, unrelated to the shoulder surgery he underwent last season -- was activated on April 30. In two rehab starts with Dunedin, Janssen has allowed only one hit and two walks in seven innings.

Last week, Ricciardi said both Janssen and Romero would likely be back between May 12-20. On Monday, the Jays GM indicated that Litsch, who was pulled out of a game in Minnesota with soreness in his right forearm/elbow on April 13 and placed on the DL the next day, is roughly a week or two behind them.

Litsch is currently working on a throwing program in Florida, but Ricciardi said the team has yet to set a date for his first rehab appearance with Dunedin.

"He's probably the longer of the guys, but he shouldn't be that much longer," Ricciardi said. "He's throwing, feels good."

Ricciardi also updated the status of righties Shaun Marcum and Dustin McGowan, who are both dealing with long-term injuries, but making good progress. Marcum underwent Tommy John ligament replacement surgery on his right elbow in the offseason, and was not expected to pitch this year, but the pitcher is ahead of the antcipated schedule.

"Marcum's throwing bullpens now, which is good," Riccardi said. "He threw a couple of bullpens in Kansas City. So, May, he'll throw bullpens. Maybe June, get into some Minor League games -- maybe. He's way ahead of schedule.

"I think -- just psychologically -- if we get Marcum on the mound by even September, it's going to do a lot for him coming [back] next year, as opposed to having not pitched."

McGowan, who underwent right shoulder surgery at the end of last July, has a slim chance of returning this year, but Ricciardi said he's willing to keep the righty out all season, if necessary.

"He's playing catch now," Ricciardi said. "There's no reason to push him. I think his body will tell us how far he can go and when. Ideally, the same thing as Marcum -- psychologically get him on the mound this year. But, if worst-case scenario it's for next year, then that's OK, too."

Erika Gilbert is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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