TORONTO - From this there will be no going back.
Dustin McGowan's time as a major league starting pitcher is over. He's off to the bullpen to reprise the role in which he was so effective last season.
He knows what to expect. He no longer has to worry about the relative brevity of his starts and the effect it's had on the bullpen. There will be less stress about the pain in his arm on days in between starts. He won't have to concern himself with tiring and the role elevated blood sugar levels - McGowan's a type 1 diabetic - may be playing in the fatigue.
There's a feeling of relief about being a reliever.
"Yeah it is, actually, to tell you the truth," said McGowan. "That was one thing, when I left the office today, I kind of felt like there was a weight lifted off of my shoulder a little bit. Like, now I know what I can go do and what I need to do."
McGowan met with manager John Gibbons in the skipper's office on Thursday afternoon. He'd pitched into the fifth inning on Wednesday, leading to another night of taxing work for the bullpen. The question Gibbons had: how are you feeling? McGowan, as he promised he would be, was honest with his response.
"Recovery is starting to get slower and slower and I was the first one that said that I would tell them when I started feeling a little sore," he said.
The problems began after McGowan's start in Pittsburgh, he said, when he noticed that he'd be sore for the next four days, until the day before he was scheduled to pitch again.
There was mutual agreement to pull the plug on the starting experiment.
"To be honest with you I think it will prolong his career," said Gibbons. "I don't know how many total innings he threw last year but he's got to be close to that number this year. I think it would be a shame for him to get hurt out there again and his career's over."
"Who's to say if I tried those two more starts, what if something did happen," said McGowan. "That's something I didn't want to happen."
McGowan's had three significant shoulder surgeries, which wiped out his 2009 and 2010 seasons, most of 2011 and the entirety of 2012. He returned as a reliever last June and pitched well in 25 appearances, posting a 2.45 ERA and striking out a hitter per inning.
The 32-year-old can now forge a relief career in peace. Last September, he asked for one more chance to start. He got it, in large part because Toronto failed to land free agent Ervin Santana and because J.A. Happ struggled in spring training and began the season on the disabled list. The reasons why don't matter, though, the fact is he got the opportunity.
"I asked for the opportunity and they gave me the shot," said McGowan, who's 2-2 with a 5.08 ERA in 39 innings pitched this year. "It's been a little rocky but I got the opportunity and I'm glad I did."
WHO REPLACES McGOWAN?
Given the Blue Jays' roster volatility, it's impossible to predict with certainty who will get the first shot at McGowan's spot.
Toronto has an off day on Monday, in between three-game series in Texas and Boston, meaning manager John Gibbons can push back a fifth starter as far as a week Saturday when the Jays are back home and playing Oakland.
From the current roster, Gibbons could go young and give Marcus Stroman his first career start. He could give the ball to Todd Redmond, a noted strike thrower.
Stroman, 23, has worked to mixed reviews in five appearances during his first stint in the big leagues. He got his first major league win, pitching 1 1/3 innings in an extra inning victory at Philadelphia on May 6. Following another scoreless appearance against the Phillies on May 8, however, Stroman has since eight earned runs and 11 hits in three innings over two outings.
"Just got to make pitches," said Stroman. "Hitters are hitters and you can never give them too much credit. Just got to really make pitches, bear down, it's the best hitters in the world so you don't have room to make mistakes and they hammer mistakes."
Here are the pitching matchups for the weekend set in Texas:
Friday - RHP Drew Hutchison (1-3, 4.37) vs. RHP Yu Darvish (3-1, 2.33)
Saturday - LHP Mark Buehrle (7-1, 2.04) vs. LHP Robbie Ross (1-5, 5.04)
Sunday - RHP R.A. Dickey (4-3, 4.53) vs. RHP Nick Martinez (0-1, 2.38)
RASMUS TO THE DISABLED LIST
He was hoping to avoid it but Colby Rasmus went on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to May 13, with tightness in his right hamstring.
"He wasn't healing quick enough," said manager John Gibbons. "It's tough to play shorthanded so this way he can go on the DL, get rid of the thing completely and he'll be good to go in a couple of weeks."
Anthony Gose was recalled from Triple-A Buffalo to take Rasmus' roster spot. Gibbons' plan is to platoon Gose, who hits left-handed, with right-handed hitting Kevin Pillar.