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Notes: Extra option for McGowan

Notes: Jays practicing patience with McGowan

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Dustin McGowan still figures into the Blue Jays' plans. As has been the case for the past few seasons, though, the question remains: How soon?

Thanks to some leeway granted by the league, the Blue Jays can afford to practice some more patience with the 24-year-old pitching prospect. Toronto was allowed a fourth option year for McGowan, which means it can send the right-hander to the Minors without exposing him to waivers.

"He's got one option left," Toronto manager John Gibbons said on Sunday. "This is a big year for him and a big year for us with him. We were lucky to get that extra option. I don't know how that all came about."

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The most likely reason that the league approved the fourth option year was because McGowan -- a first-round pick by Toronto in 2000 -- missed most of 2004 after undergoing reconstructive elbow surgery. That slowed down his progress significantly.

McGowan's name has been grouped among the few pitchers vying for one of Toronto's last two rotation spots this spring. In reality, though, his chances of cracking the Opening Day roster as a starter are slim. McGowan is 2-5 with a 6.69 ERA in 29 games, including 10 starts, in the last two years with the Jays.

"Going in, we've got guys that are stacked ahead of him and they have the experience," Gibbons said. "We're still waiting for Dustin to come into his own. I mean, sure, if things happen and he's pitching really well, who knows?"

Over the past two seasons, the Jays have moved McGowan in and out of starting and relieving roles in the Majors and Minors. Now that the Blue Jays have some more flexibility with McGowan, the club would prefer to have him remain in the rotation at Triple-A Syracuse this season in order to gain more experience.

"He's got to get innings one way or another," Gibbons said. "As a long [reliever] or a middle guy, where he may not pitch consistently, I think that sets him back at this stage. I don't want to see him do that, because he needs to pitch."

Catching on: The Blue Jays re-signed Gregg Zaun to be their No. 1 catcher, but Gibbons wasn't about to guess how many games he'd like to see the 35-year-old start.

Gibbons did say that catcher Jason Phillips is the favorite to win the backup job behind the plate. Phillips, who can also play some first base, spent most of last season with Triple-A Syracuse, but he has five years of Major League experience.

"Phillips is going to play," Gibbons said. "He's very good back there, too, and he'll primarily be the guy against lefties. That's probably when we'd use him more."

The Jays also signed veteran catcher Sal Fasano, who will compete for the reserve role behind Zaun. In January, Fasano said he would be willing to play in the Minors if he didn't make Toronto's roster.

"He's got to have a good camp," Gibbons said of Fasano. "But going in, Phillips has the edge."

Talking turf: When right-hander John Thomson traveled to Florida to undergo a physical in January, finalizing his contract with Toronto, he met Jays pitcher Roy Halladay and asked about the FieldTurf at Rogers Centre.

Like Halladay, Thomson's style of pitching induces a lot of ground balls, and he was curious how pitching on an artificial surface might effect his craft. Thomson was surprised to hear that his new home turf might actually work to his advantage.

"He gets a lot of ground-balls and I'm the same way," Thomson said. "I was asking him how that fared on turf as [opposed to how] it does on grass. He was telling me, actually, with the new turf, it's actually better for groundball pitchers than on some of the grass fields."

Feeling better: Jays reliever Brandon League sat out of Saturday's workout due to a tight hamstring, but the pitcher went back to work on Sunday. League's leg was feeling better and he was able to take part in fielding drills without any lingering issues.

Better late than never: While the second workout of Spring Training was well under way for Toronto's pitchers and catchers, third-base coach Brian Butterfield arrived at the Bobby Mattick Training Center. Bad weather delayed Butterfield's trip to Florida from Maine.

Quotable: "[He'll be on the roster] if he can help us some way or another. We're looking to take the best staff north." -- Gibbons, on McGowan's chances of being on the big-league roster to start the season

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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