McGowan cleared to start home opener Friday

McGowan cleared to start home opener Friday

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Right-hander Dustin McGowan is officially in the clear to start the Blue Jays' home opener against he Yankees on Friday night at Rogers Centre.

If there were any lingering doubts about McGowan's availability, they were erased following a Minor League intrasquad game Sunday afternoon. McGowan pitched five innings and threw 77 pitches in his final tuneup before the start of the season.

The workload should be enough to allow McGowan to throw 90-95 pitches during his first outing. He'll need to be closely monitored throughout, but the fact that McGowan got through Sunday's outing without any soreness is another major step in the right direction.

"It went good, got in my pitches, and felt great again today, so I'm ready now," McGowan said before the season opener against Tampa Bay on Monday. "I actually feel better today than I did [Sunday] ... It's been the same the last three times I've pitched, so you can't ask for anything more than that."

McGowan became a late spring contender for the final spot in Toronto's rotation following the prolonged struggles of J.A. Happ and Esmil Rogers. McGowan was considered a long shot at the start of camp, but following three impressive innings against the Phillies on March 20, all of that changed.

The 32-year-old was extended to four innings during his next outing, which was enough to be officially named the fifth starter. It's a remarkable accomplishment considering McGowan has dealt with more than his fair share of injuries over the years, and hasn't made the 25-man roster out of Spring Training since 2008.

That's also the last time McGowan was a full-time starter. He made four September starts in 2011 and spent last year in the bullpen, but this is the first time in recent memory that McGowan has been able to settle into any kind of rhythm.

"It's almost like I'm in a routine," said McGowan, who has a 4.65 ERA in 105 career games. "In '07, '08, I remember how I felt after starting games and how I felt a few days after, and it's kind of the process I'm going through now. So far it's been good.

"I'll be jacked up [Friday], excited. I keep thinking about it every day, I'm already ready to go. That day is going to be special. I'll have to calm myself down but it's good to have it pumping sometimes like that, gives you a little extra in there."

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.