McGowan has been traveling a long and painful road to recovery, following a pair of major shoulder surgeries. The former first-round Draft pick hasn't thrown a pitch in game action since 2008, but will now look to reinvent his career as a reliever.
Blue Jays manager John Farrell made the announcement during a postgame scrum following Toronto's 9-3 victory over the Rays on Sunday afternoon at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium.
"When we get into the season, we're going to groom him as a reliever," Farrell said. "At some point in the future, we want to answer all of the questions that a reliever's going to go through."
McGowan's last outing came on July 8th, 2008, against the Orioles. Since that time, he has undergone two surgeries on his right shoulder. The first repaired the fraying of his labrum, while the second fixed a torn rotator cuff.
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The native of Savannah, Ga., said earlier this spring he was not prepared to go through another major procedure. His goal was to get back to the Majors, but if he suffered another severe injury, he would have no choice but to step away from the game.
That has forced McGowan to take a very cautious approach to this year's Spring Training. He limited bullpen sessions to 25 pitches at 80 percent intensity. At the beginning, he was throwing only fastballs, but over time, he began mixing in breaking balls as well.
His transition to the bullpen is being made with that same cautious approach in mind. The club felt that if McGowan was forced to throw a lot of pitches in one outing, it would increase the odds of there being more medical problems.
That lack of endurance in the future also would cause problems for the club on the field.
"The thing that you run into there is, what is the fatigue level, once you get to 80 pitches and above?" Farrell said. "Is that where more damage takes place? Because if that's the feeling -- [and] that's the feeling of the medical staff -- now, you're looking at a five-inning starting pitcher.
"That's why we have to bring him back in a role that doesn't have limitations, that doesn't affect everybody else on the staff."
McGowan was placed on the club's 60-day disabled list on Saturday afternoon. The move had been anticipated for some time and wasn't made due to a setback in his rehab.
His locker was already cleared out on Sunday, and McGowan now likely will report to the club's Minor League Spring Training facilities where his rehab will continue. Farrell said he was optimistic that McGowan would make an appearance in a Minor League game some time this month.
The club's decision to change his roles was made in conjunction with McGowan, whose main goal is to get back to the big leagues in any way possible.
"[McGowan] was consulted all along the way," Farrell said. "All that he has been through, all the information, from the doctors to the surgeons, all of that has been outlined very clearly to him. He's in agreement with it, and I think more than anything he wants to get back on the mound and compete."
Even with the recent development, there are no guarantees that McGowan will be able to make a successful return. The club will have to monitor his ability to bounce back after outings, a crucial ability for any reliever, before the Blue Jays begin setting any expectations or assigning a time frame.
"[That's] the tough thing about coming back as a reliever," Farrell said. "If you're not a closer, it can be rough on you, physically, because of the ups and downs and how quickly you've got to get ready for games. But we'll give him plenty of time to answer those questions"
The Blue Jays are expected to give McGowan every opportunity to succeed after signing him to a one-year contract worth $450,000 during the offseason. It showed the club's faith in McGowan's ability to recover following his four-year career in Toronto, in which he went 20-22 with a 4.71 ERA in 75 games.
The fact that McGowan has gone through the first three weeks of Spring Training without experiencing any major pain has been the biggest positive so far for the Blue Jays and gives them hope for the future.
"The most important thing for Dustin is that he's had no setbacks," Farrell said. "[There's been] no need for added rest on the program he has been on. It still has a chance to be a very good ending to a tough road that he has travelled, but [it takes] a quality person to answer those challenges.
"He has some hurdles yet to come, but if somebody is going to do it, it's someone with his resolve and intensity that will get there."