McGowan itching to throw

After spending most of the last three years on the sidelines due to injury, Blue Jays pitcher...

After spending most of the last three years on the sidelines due to injury, Blue Jays pitcher Dustin McGowan (left) is eager to get in the mix of things. (MIKE CASSESE/Reuters file photo)

KEN FIDLIN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:39 PM ET

DUNEDIN, FLA. - Although the Blue Jays have declared Dustin McGowan to be just one of the pitchers in the mix to be in the starting rotation, with no restrictions, it’s pretty clear they’re handling him carefully after three years on the shelf.

It certainly isn’t at McGowan’s request because he’s champing at the bit to get himself ready. He gets his first opportunity to pitch in a Grapefruit League game Saturday when he’s slated to work two innings against the Houston Astros.

“The way he’s thrown the ball early in camp here is impressive,” manager John Farrell said. “As long as he goes out and pitches like he has early in camp ... we’re not looking for anything additional.”

McGowan threw 25 pitches in a simulated game earlier this week.

“I’m ready to go,” he said after that one.

McGowan has been pencilled into the fifth spot in the rotation but Farrell has conceded that, as the season goes on, the team will be monitoring McGowan’s innings buildup. The most he’s ever thrown in a season is 169 innings in 2007. Last season, including rehab starts and extended spring training, McGowan threw about 80 innings. It stands to reason he’d be likely limited to 150 innings or less if all goes well this year.

Reliever Carlos Villanueva, fully recovered from the circulation problem in his pitching arm that occurred early in camp, will also make his season debut, scheduled for one inning.

MATHIS WANTS TO BE A BIG-LEAGUE HITTER

Catcher Jeff Mathis comes to the Blue Jays from the pitching-rich Angels a with good field, no-hit reputation that he hopes to shed. Not the good field part. Just the no-hit.

One of the premier signal-callers in the game, working under a tough taskmaster in manager Mike Scioscia, Mathis, in seven years, has a lifetime batting average of .194 and an OBP of .257. With those kinds of numbers, you have to be a defensive whiz.

“I’m not going to make any excuses about my average or anything about my hitting,” he said Friday. “There is no excuse to be down there where I was offensively.

“Yes, the No. 1 focus and goal over there (in Anaheim), and really over here also, is handling the staff but you’ve got to be more of a presence at the plate. I’m looking forward to getting a new start.”

Mathis will be J.P. Arencibia’s backup in Toronto and he’s busy trying to learn everything he can about Toronto’s young staff.

“There’s a lot of good young arms, young guys who are hungry who want to get out there on the bump,” he said. “Right now I’m just catching as many bullpens as I can, talking to pitchers, trying to learn as much as I can about each individual style.”

Baseball people have wondered this spring if, now out from under Scioscia’s thumb, Mathis might be able to relax enough to become the kind of decent hitter he appeared to be when he was in the Angels’ farm system.

“He was tougher on us but that’s how we expected it to be,” said Mathis, of Scioscia. “He was always consistent that way, ever since I first met him in 2003. That’s the way he runs things. He expected us to run things his way and I learned a lot.”

Mathis is an outstanding athlete and somewhere within that makeup lurks a big-league hitter.

“We’re just trying to find it, fine tune it and get me in a good spot,” he said.

MAGS WANTS A PLACE TO CALL HOME

Trystan Magnuson has bounced around a bit in his life. He hopes one day his baseball talent will settle him in one place: Toronto.

Trystan’s father is a scientist who does spinal cord injury research. After Trystan was born in Vancouver, his dad’s work took him to England, then Ottawa, Winnipeg and, finally, Louisville, Ky. As a pro ball player, Magnuson has toiled in Lansing, Dunedin, New Hampshire, Sacramento and, last year, in Oakland where he made his major league debut with the A’s.

The 6-foot-7 righthanded pitcher was traded away by the Blue Jays in November of 2010 and, almost a year later, purchased back.

Magnuson began this spring training with the training staff guarding a sore shoulder but has slowly worked himself into game shape. Friday, he tossed a 25-pitch simulated game against some of his teammates.

His next assignment will be an inning for the Jays on Tuesday against the Canadian Junior Nationals in St. Petersburg. For Magnuson it will be like old home week.

“I never played for the Junior Nationals but I played two years for Canada’s senior nationals,” he said. “This (game) should be interesting and a lot of fun.”

Magnuson is destined for the minors, probably triple-A Las Vegas. He hopes to put his name in the minds of the talent evaluators before he is reassigned.

“You want to make a good impression,” he said. “You want them to say at some point when they need a little help, ‘Let’s take Magnuson.’ ”

MORE DANGEROUS ON THE PATHS

A year ago, the Blue Jays started changing their offensive culture from a team counting on the home run ball to one with a more balanced approach.

The evolution has continued ever since and this is starting to look like a team ready to score runs in a variety of ways. With a bit more speed in players like Colby Rasmus, Kelly Johnson, Brett Lawrie and the potential of having a Travis Snider also in the lineup, Farrell is able to be more aggressive, not so much in the base-stealing game but in putting runners in motion and aggressively taking the extra base.

“We became a more diverse offence,” says Farrell. “Last year, while we started at ground level, this year, we start at the second or third rung of the ladder. So we feel like we’re kind of able to build on some of the things we established a year ago and the foundation that was set.”

Johnson showed that earlier this week by stretching a double into a triple against the Phillies.

“He can run,” said Farrell. “There’s no doubt about it. He’s had upper teens in stolen bases in the past so he’s a good athlete.”

Rasmus can steal a base but his speed is more about going first-to-third, as is Snider’s. Lawrie is not only fast but naturally aggressive on the bases. With Rajai Davis ready to come off the bench in the late innings, it adds another layer of pressure on the defence.

JAYS VS ASTROS

At Kissimmee

Blue Jays 11, Astros 2

Hechavarria and d‚Arnaud both homer

Cooper two hits, 3 RBI

Lawrie, Encarnacion two RBI each

Alvarez 2IP, 1 hit, 1 walk, 1 ER, 3K


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