Blue Jays starting rotation: Dustin McGowan earns the final spot

Blue Jays starting rotation
Dustin McGowan nails down the final spot in the Blue Jays’ rotation after a strong spring. (John Lott/National Post)

When asked time and time again about the state of the rotation come April, Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons wouldn’t budge, shrugging off reporters with a simple “you ain’t getting nothing.”

And the skipper remained true to his word by waiting until the club’s final days of spring training to announce the lineup and, as assured, we did get something and it doesn’t include J.A. Happ.

Toronto’s newly reordered starting rotation was finally revealed early Wednesday morning with a surprise choice finally filling that much talked about fifth spot. R.A. Dickey will open the season against the Tampa Bay Rays followed by Drew Hutchison, Mark Buehrle, Brandon Morrow and Dustin McGowan.

Yes, Dustin McGowan.

Although his name came up at times throughout the offseason, and during spring training when the sure-things struggled on the mound, this decision still has come as a shock to many fans, the media and to the right-hander himself, even though he admitted he was hoping for the post in 2014.

“I was kind of speechless,” McGowan said after finding out he had made the cut. “There’s times I thought it might not happen anymore, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying. … There’s no quittin’ in my blood.”

In my preview earlier this month, I predicted McGowan would find success this year in the bullpen again because I believed he would make a stronger candidate as a long reliever. However, weeks later, I can’t argue with his progress and numbers compared to others vying for the job, especially after realizing time was running short on him this month after the flu forced him to take 10 days off.

On Tuesday, he took a big step forward in a minor league game as starting rotation front-runners Happ and Esmil Rogers took an even bigger step back on the same day, racking up a combined 17 runs in a 22-5 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Rogers has now found a spot for himself in the eight-man bullpen alongside Brett Cecil, Steve Delabar, Casey Janssen, Jeremy Jeffress, Aaron Loup, Todd Redmond and Sergio Santos, while it has been announced that Happ will start the season on the DL.

McGowan, 32, now in his 15th season with the Blue Jays organization, has faced setback after setback for five of those years. In 2008, McGowan suffered a season-ending injury, which lead to the first of three shoulder surgeries. He ultimately missed three full seasons, where he also underwent surgery on his knee and overcame a foot injury, after which he finally returned to the major leagues as a reliever in 2013. McGowan’s old stuff still impressed and he posted a 2.45 ERA in 25 games with 26 strikeouts and 12 walks.

He acknowledges how fortunate he is that the club has continued to believe in him over the years through thick and thin.

“I guarantee you, no other organization probably would’ve stuck with me that long,” said McGowan. “But it’s paid off. They stuck with me. I’ve worked hard to get back and now we’re seeing it all come together.”

McGowan is now slated to open for a sold-out crowd in Toronto at the Rogers Centre on April 4 against the New York Yankees, the team’s first game of the season on home turf, where he could possibly find himself facing newcomer Masahiro Tanaka.

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