McGowan -- sidelined since July 2008 with a right shoulder injury -- logged two innings at Toronto's Bobby Mattick Training Center, throwing to a quartet of Minor League hitters while members of the Blue Jays' brass monitored the performance. McGowan threw only 30 pitches, but general manager Alex Anthopoulos was impressed by what he saw.
Could McGowan make a serious run at a spot in the Opening Day rotation? Given the pitcher's early progress, Anthopoulos said that is definitely a possibility.
"Right now, you can't rule that out," Anthopoulos said. "It's too early to rule that out."
It is too soon mainly because McGowan is still in the early stages of the rehab process. The starter is scheduled to throw another simulated game (possibly Sunday), and then Toronto will gauge whether he is ready to pitch in a Spring Training game. More important than how McGowan looks on the mound is how he feels between appearances.
Anthopoulos was very encouraged by what he saw from McGowan on Field No. 2 at the Blue Jays' Minor League complex, but the general manager will be checking with Toronto's medical staff to see how the right-hander recovers on Wednesday and Thursday. If McGowan has no lingering discomfort, the club will then map out the next step.
"He just looked very, very good," Anthopoulos said. "The big test now is how does he feel the following day and the day after that. Does the soreness continue to go away? It's one of those things that, when he does throw, the stuff looks sharp, everything looks good. It'll just be a question of how he bounces back."
The last thing Anthopoulos wants to do is rush anything with McGowan.
"We're going to be very conservative with him. We really are," Anthopoulos said. "We're not going to try to accelerate anything at all. We'll be more conservative than anything."
Having McGowan in the rotation come Opening Day would be a great development for the Blue Jays, but the club is not necessarily making that a goal. The current front-runners for the five starting jobs include Shaun Marcum, Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Marc Rzepczynski, Brian Tallet and Brett Cecil, so there is no need to force McGowan into the mix if he is not ready.
McGowan, who will turn 28 on March 24, is out of options, so if he proves to be healthy and capable to handle a five-day routine, he will likely be placed on the Blue Jays' staff. Toronto might also have the option of placing him on the 15-day disabled list to open the season, buying the pitcher time to make sure he is at full strength.
"The Opening Day date is not something that we've targeted specifically," Anthopoulos said. "It's more of when his arm is ready to go. So, that's certainly a scenario. If we need to start him on the DL, we would do that and continue to rehab him down here, and hopefully he'd be back here sooner rather than later."
McGowan is understanding of the situation and is simply thrilled to be on a mound again. Under the circumstances, he just feels blessed to be where he is, so much so that McGowan said he would not be disappointed if he did not make the Opening Day roster.
"I'll be ready when I'm ready," McGowan said. "That's the most important thing, not to rush into it and get hurt again. Even if it's a couple weeks or whatever it is, I'll just take it easy."
Blue Jays farmhands Jake Marisnick, Kenny Wilson, Darin Mastoianni and K.C. Hobson stepped up to the plate to face McGowan, who was on a pitch count. McGowan threw 15 pitches in each of the first and second innings, finishing with 15 strikes. It was a controlled outing in terms of how many pitches McGowan threw, so neither inning included three outs.
"It's a big relief that I got that done," said a smiling McGowan. "Another step out of the way."
Wilson lined a pitch into left field for what would have likely been a base hit in the first inning, but none of the hitters put a ball in play in the second. McGowan had strikeouts to begin and end the second -- one swinging and one looking. The starter threw a couple curveballs and began trying out his slider for the first time since having shoulder surgery in July 2008.
"Stuff-wise, it was good," McGowan said. "I thought I got a little tired during that second inning and I tried to do too much. But, that's to be expected the first time. I was pumped about it. ... Today was actually the first day I threw sliders, and they were good. I was just pulling them to the left a lot.
"I was happy I had the right spin on it and stuff like that. Now, it's just a matter of finding control with it."
Standing off to the side behind home plate, Anthopoulos thought McGowan's pitches looked sharp.
"From what you see today, that stuff and the way he looks," Anthopoulos said, "certainly if he can go every five days, there's no question he would be on the roster one way or the other. So, ability-wise, it's not a question. It's just will his arm allow him to do it and to take the ball?"
McGowan said he is confident that he will be able to bounce back fine over the next few days. Little by little, McGowan is getting closer to putting himself in the rotation picture. That's something that has him excited.
"I'm thrilled right now to tell you the truth," McGowan said.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.