DUNEDIN, Florida – The following players will make up the Blue Jays' 38th opening day roster:
STARTING ROTATION (in order of appearance:) R.A. Dickey, Drew Hutchison, Mark Buehrle, Brandon Morrow, Dustin McGowan.
BULLPEN: Casey Janssen, Steve Delabar, Sergio Santos, Brett Cecil, Aaron Loup, Esmil Rogers, Todd Redmond, Jeremy Jeffress.
CATCHERS: Dioner Navarro, Josh Thole.
INFIELDERS: Edwin Encarnacion, Adam Lind, Jose Reyes, Brett Lawrie, Ryan Goins, Maicer Izturis.
OUTFIELDERS: Jose Bautista, Colby Rasmus, Melky Cabrera, Moises Sierra.
DISABLED LIST: J.A. Happ.
Dustin McGowan typically isn't long-winded. Wednesday morning was no exception when he found out the news he would be starting the Blue Jays' 38th home opener on April 4 against the New York Yankees.
"I was kind of speechless," said McGowan. "I told them, thank you for the opportunity and I'll be ready."
What this decision says about McGowan is one thing. What it says about the state of the Blue Jays' starting rotation is another.
First, McGowan, who turned 32 on March 24 and suddenly is the author of an unlikely story.
At one time the organization's highly prized pitching prospect, McGowan cemented himself as a bona fide big leaguer when he won 12 games and posted a 4.08 ERA in 27 starts for the Blue Jays in 2007.
The persistent shoulder problems began on July 8, 2008, when he was forced to leave a game against Baltimore after four innings. He wouldn't pitch again that year and his rehab took him into the 2009 season. McGowan was progressing before developing a cartilage problem in his knee, which required surgery. He missed all of 2010 with a torn rotator cuff.
It wouldn't be until September 6, 2011, that McGowan would pitch in another big league game. He finished the season with the Blue Jays but returned to the disabled list out of spring training in 2012 with a foot problem. Later that summer, he was back under the knife for arthroscopic shoulder surgery.
It wasn't until last season, when McGowan made 25 relief appearances, that he showed he could continue to pitch at the big league level.
Late in the season, he expressed an interest in trying to be a starter one more time. It seemed unlikely at the time but, then again, the fact he pitched at all last year was proof McGowan could overcome seemingly insurmountable odds.
"I always had the resolve to push through," said McGowan. "There's no quitting in my blood. There was times I thought it may not happen anymore but it wouldn't be from lack of trying so I kept pushing hard for moments like this."
"He was one of the top up-and-coming pitchers here in this organization a few years ago and we got a glimpse of it before he had his injuries," said manager John Gibbons. "It's pretty amazing in my mind that he's come back this far and looked this good. We're going to run with it and see where it takes us."
Really, what option does Gibbons have? J.A. Happ, like Ricky Romero last spring, pitched his way out of the rotation with four poor Grapefruit League performances (20.57 ERA) and will begin the season on the disabled list.
"He had that back issue earlier on," said Gibbons. "It hasn't been a big deal. He's getting better but it's something we think it's limited him a little bit right now and it's affecting him so he'll go on the DL and he'll get himself right and we'll look at it in the near future."
Disabling Happ is nothing more than a paper move, which enables the Blue Jays to carry an eight-man bullpen to start the season. Each of Esmil Rogers, Todd Redmond and Jeremy Jeffress is out of options. When Happ is activated, someone will have to go. The Jays are simply delaying the inevitable.
Gibbons confirmed Redmond is the next starter in line should there be an injury in the rotation.
Meanwhile, Josh Thole beat out Erik Kratz for the second catcher's job behind Dioner Navarro.
"He's got something special with Dickey," said Gibbons. "He's caught him the last few years. There's a little bit of something they've got working so we're going to run with that."
Thole has caught Dickey for a total of 565 innings during their time together with the Mets and Blue Jays. While it's expected the second catcher is going to have to play more this year, Navarro hasn't played in more than 89 games in any of the last four seasons, the ability to handle Dickey's knuckleball is being prioritized ahead of offence.
"I think he's a better hitter than he showed last year," said Gibbons, referring to Thole's .175/.242/.216 slash line. "He's made some adjustments but his number one job is to catch Dickey. That's what he's here for. We'll take whatever offence we can get."
Kratz has an option remaining and will begin the season at Triple-A Buffalo.
"He was disappointed," said Gibbons of Kratz's reaction to his demotion. "I mean, you expect him to be. It was a long time coming to get to the big leagues. He'd been up there a little bit with Pittsburgh and of course, Philly, and yeah, he was very disappointed and I don't blame him but the way we're going to start this thing out, let Thole run with it. Our number one job, the big question mark is how good our starting pitching is going to be, we've got to take care of those guys."
It appears it will be a short stay with the Blue Jays for utility infielder/outfielder Matt Tuiasosopo, who was informed on Wednesday he wouldn't make the opening day roster. He was seen leaving Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in street clothes. No formal roster move has been made.
Tuiasosopo is out of options, meaning he will have to clear through waivers before being sent to the minor leagues. If he isn't picked up by another club, he would likely start in Buffalo.