Jays’ McGowan returning as a starter

It’s been three long and painful years, but Dustin McGowan and his trademarked mutton-chop sideburns will get another chance as a starter for the Toronto Blue Jays.

Since suffering a torn labrum July 8, 2008, McGowan has undergone two shoulder surgeries and a knee operation.

So when Jays’ manager John Farrell announced Thursday evening that McGowan will start this Sunday against the Baltimore Orioles, the hard-throwing right-hander’s journey back into to the big leagues would be complete.

“This is what I’ve been looking forward to, this is what I’ve worked so hard to do,” said McGowan prior to Thursday’s game against the Red Sox.

After the initial labrum surgery that sidelined McGowan in 2008, he suffered cartilage damage in his knee suffered in July of 2009 while doing running drills.

Then on June 22, 2010, McGowan underwent a procedure designed to increase the range of motion in his throwing arm as renown orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews discovered and repaired the new tear in McGowan’s right rotator cuff.

The roadblocks in McGowan’s comeback tormented the young pitcher.

“I had those days where I’d go out and throw and think ‘man this is not good,’” McGowan told the Toronto Star after his return to the majors Tuesday night. “Some things you’ve just got to battle through and hope it’ll work out.”

McGowan made his return to the major leagues out of the bullpen during a 14-0 beat down at the hands of the Red Sox, although he was the lone bright spot in an otherwise ugly outing.

He came into the game to a standing ovation, a warm welcome that caught an emotional McGowan by surprise.

“It was a little nerve-wracking jogging in and when I got there, everybody was on their feet, it got to me a little bit,” McGowan said to the Toronto Star. “The first inning, I was so pumped that everything was up.”

His first pitch was a 94 MPH fastball. McGowan eventually regained his composure and turned in a pretty solid outing.

Entering the game with his team trailing 11-0, McGowan threw 74 pitches over four innings, giving up four hits for three earned runs while striking out five and walking three batters.

“Stuff-wise, maybe not quite as sharp and strong as I once was, but I think that’s going to come as I get further away from the injury,” McGowan told to Rogers Sportsnet after his outing.

Farrell plans to test McGowan’s endurance a little more in his start against the Orioles to see how he reacts to the heavier workload expected of a starting pitcher, perhaps to consider how viable McGowan may be as a starter for next season.

“We’re looking forward to getting him back out there,” the Jays manager told the Globe & Mail. “We would like to increase his pitch count to 80-85.”

Considering what he’s endured since his last big league start, McGowan is confident he will be able to make his comeback a successful one.

“To go through what I did for those years, you just learn,” McGowan told to the National Post. “If that doesn’t break you, then this should be [a piece of] cake.”