McGowan still candidate for Blue Jays' rotation

McGowan still candidate for Blue Jays' rotation

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Right-hander Dustin McGowan apparently still has a chance to make the Blue Jays' starting rotation after all.

Just two days after John Gibbons appeared to indicate that McGowan was headed for a role in the bullpen, the tone of his scrum with a group of reporters changed. According to Toronto's manager, McGowan hasn't been ruled out as a starter and apparently never was in the first place.

The big question is whether McGowan will be able to maintain his health and get stretched out enough before Opening Day after throwing 47 pitches in his last outing. But either way, he's still under consideration.

"We don't have all of the answers yet, we have guys doing different things, we're trying to put it together," Gibbons said. "So no official announcements were made. I try to be honest and give you the best answers that I can, but I haven't officially said anything about anybody.

"The way it's set up now, he'll get a couple of more outings in. He can get there no big deal and if you throw him down there in the Minor Leagues, make sure he gets to whatever pitch limit we want, roll the innings to guarantee to get him that. [Pitch count] wouldn't be an issue there."

Most of Gibbons' scrum with the media on Saturday morning was spent arguing semantics. Several media outlets, including MLB.com, reported on Thursday that McGowan was set to start the season in the bullpen. The determination was made after Gibbons held court with the media earlier that morning.

At the time, Gibbons was asked: "Has [McGowan] been ruled out as a candidate to start or is that something you're still looking at?" He replied: "Well, he's kind of in limbo there. We want to be able to stretch him out anyways, if he's in the 'pen for multiple innings that would benefit us quite a bit down there. We know he can do two, if he can do three it would do wonders for us."

That prompted a followup statement from a reporter: "So it seems like he's more in the bullpen picture then." Gibbons appeared to confirm that by saying "Yeah, yeah. Unless he comes out of nowhere and you know ..."

McGowan then went out later that day and fired three scoreless innings vs. the Phillies. He allowed just one hit and struck out five in his longest outing since 2011. McGowan also threw 47 pitches, and while that's well short of where he would need to be at the start of the regular season, there's still some time to continue building up his endurance.

The current plan appears to be that McGowan will start a Minor League game on Tuesday and then again on March 30. That's the same day the Blue Jays will have to finalize their 25-man roster for Opening Day, and it's very possible the club will want to wait and see how he pitches in both outings before making an official decision on its rotation.

"I've said from Day One, I wanted to be a starter, but I know the obstacles I have to overcome to do it," McGowan said. "A bunch of surprises coming I guess.

"I didn't know if I'd be able to get to 80-85 pitches before spring is over, but I guess I've got a chance to, so we'll see."

The Blue Jays plan to start the year with R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle and Brandon Morrow in the rotation. Right-hander Drew Hutchison appears all but officially guaranteed a spot while McGowan is competing against the likes of Todd Redmond, Esmil Rogers and J.A. Happ.

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.