DUNEDIN, Fla. - Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Dustin McGowan is grateful the organization stuck with him during his long road back from injuries.
He's ready to prove that he's worth the wait.
For the first time since 2008, McGowan's off-season routine was not overloaded with shoulder rehabilitation. He finally feels fresh again and will get a chance this spring to show he belongs in Toronto's starting rotation.
"Any other organization I might have been done, I might have been looking for a new team," McGowan said Thursday. "But (GM) Alex (Anthopoulos) stuck with me and I'm glad the (organization) did. Now it's my turn to return the favour to them and I hope I do that."
The six-foot-three, 235-pound right-hander has shown flashes of brilliance since making his big-league debut in 2005.
After an impressive 12-10 campaign in 2007, McGowan underwent surgery the following year to repair fraying of the labrum in his right shoulder. He underwent another procedure two years later to repair a torn right rotator cuff.
Despite the physical and mental drain, McGowan never lost sight of his goal of a big-league return and stuck it out over a seemingly endless run of rehab.
"It's kind of like Groundhog Day," McGowan said. "It seems like you do the same thing every single day. The exercises you have to do are tedious little things but I had to do them.
"That's pretty much what every day consisted of."
His hard work paid off last September when he made his first major-league appearance in over three years. It was a key building block for the 29-year-old Savannah, Ga., native, who has been in great spirits over a warm, sunny opening week of camp at the team's spring training facility.
McGowan said he feels refreshed and "fully charged" after a normal off-season.
"I feel like I'm more energized," he said. "I actually got to rest this off-season. I took some time off to spend with my family instead of steadily going to rehab. It takes a toll on you over time.
"But I had time to clear my mind and enjoy my family for an off-season and that was a good thing."
It wasn't easy to maintain his focus when he was out of action. McGowan was determined to persevere even when questions about the future crept into his mind.
"There were some times you have thoughts of, 'Am I ever going to pitch again?'" he said. "I'd be lying if I said I didn't have those thoughts.
"It was those days that I went out and threw and my arm felt really good and I said, 'I know it's there.' So I needed to work harder to get it to be a consistent thing."
McGowan received a nice ovation on Sept. 6 when he stepped back on the Rogers Centre mound for a relief appearance. It was one of his career highlights.
"That to me was a bigger achievement than being called up for the first time to the big leagues — because of the stuff I went through," he said. "I never dreamed I'd have to work that hard for three years just to pitch again. When I got back up here it was a surreal moment for me."
McGowan was 0-2 with a 6.43 earned-run average last season. More importantly, he showed that he had the required velocity, control and pitch variety for the big-league level.
Now he's in consideration for a spot at the back end of the starting rotation.
"I know the numbers don’t look great (from 2011) but I thought the stuff was outstanding," Anthopoulos said. "I'm probably as excited about him as I am about any of our starters."
In addition to his shoulder issues, McGowan underwent ligament-replacement surgery on his right elbow in 2004 and needed knee surgery in 2009. It's no surprise that his top goals for this year are to simply stay healthy and be consistent on the hill.
"It's going to take a lot of hard work," he said. "But it's something I'm willing to do. I'm willing to put the time in. I'm looking forward to it."