3 shoulder surgeries (and 5 years) later, McGowan could help Blue Jays

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Many pitchers don't come back after one shoulder surgery.

Dustin McGowan has had three.

The surgeries took a toll on what was once a promising career. McGowan has made just five big-league appearances in the last four seasons, all in September 2011 (between the second and third surgeries). Until Tuesday, he had stepped on the mound to pitch in an official game just twice in the last five spring trainings (both last year).

And after trying over and over to return as a starting pitcher, McGowan finally had to admit he had a better shot as a reliever.

"Right now, if I was starting, I'd probably need 15 days to recover," McGowan said, after pitching an inning for the Blue Jays in Tuesday's spring game against the Pirates.

What makes this more than just a feel-good story is that when McGowan did make it to the mound, he pitched a 1-2-3 inning and the radar gun still lit up with numbers like 91, 92 and even 93 mph. He won't make the opening day roster, but the Blue Jays now believe McGowan could help them out of the bullpen at some point not that far in the future.

"Everything felt normal," McGowan said. "I can't ask for anything more."

There's reason for caution. McGowan said he felt even better last spring, before he hurt his foot (and later in the year hurt the shoulder again).

"I know I'll never be 100 percent ever again, after everything I've been through," said McGowan, who was 26 when he last pitched regularly in the big leagues, and just turned 31 on Sunday.

He won't be 100 percent, but he may well be back.

After three shoulder surgeries, that's impressive enough.

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