TORONTO -- Dustin McGowan, the oft-injured Blue Jays right-hander who hasn't pitched in a Major League game since 2008, is set to begin a rehab assignment with Class A Dunedin on Saturday as he continues to work his way back to full health.
Over the past two months, the 29-year-old has made tremendous strides in his recovery from multiple arm surgeries, advancing from pitching just one inning to pitching two and throwing his fastball with mid-90's velocity during games in extended spring training. Now, McGowan will join Dunedin, where he will pitch every five days, throwing just two innings in his first two outings before progressing to three innings in his third.
"The fact that he's back on the mound with just basically a time out with the last outing -- this is encouraging," Blue Jays manager John Farrell said.
The time out that Farrell is referring too would be the last seven days, when McGowan was held out of game action due to soreness in his right forearm that he first felt when throwing a bullpen session last week. The team erred on the side of caution and kept McGowan off the mound, which helped correct the issue.
"When we talked about McGowan the other day, there was a quick red flag, like 'Oh, he's had a setback,'" Farrell said. "We were just allowing him to get over some soreness that he had in his forearm."
McGowan threw another bullpen session on Wednesday and said his arm felt fine.
Once McGowan starts his rehab assignment on Saturday, the Blue Jays will have 30 days to either recall him or put him back on the disabled list.
According to Farrell, if the team wanted McGowan to go on a second rehab assignment they would have to recall him after the first 30 days for seven days of inactivity. During that week-long window McGowan would not be permitted to pitch in a game where there is paid attendance.
Morrow displaying new level of consistency
TORONTO -- Blue Jays starter Brandon Morrow tossed his third straight quality start on Wednesday night and his fourth in five outings this month as the 26-year-old has seemed to turn a corner on his season.
Morrow had a lackluster May, going 2-2 with a 5.51 ERA, allowing 20 earned runs in just 32 2/3 innings. But in June, Morrow is 2-1 with a 3.77 ERA and has cut his runs allowed nearly in half.
In his four quality starts this month, Morrow has allowed just four earned runs and 16 hits while striking out 30.
For his part, Blue Jays manager John Farrell chalks up Morrow's recent success to two very simple, yet often elusive cornerstones of pitching -- commanding the fastball and throwing first-pitch strikes.
"Those very simple basic principles to pitching have been more consistent for him," Farrell said. "He's been more efficient in those critical spots of the game."
Morrow has been consistently relying on the pitches that are working for him on any given night. Wednesday night it was his four-seam fastball and slider that kept the Pirates at bay in a 2-1 Blue Jays victory. Other nights it has been Morrow's curveball and two-seam fastball that have carried him deep into the ballgame.
Farrell said that Morrow reminded him of Red Sox starter Jon Lester, whom Farrell coached in Boston when he was the team's pitching coach. Farrell said he annually watched Lester take three or four starts at the beginning of the year to find his command before turning it on and being dominant for the rest of the season.
"Certain power pitchers start to really gain their overall command a month-and-a-half to two months into the season, and [Morrow] may very well be one of those," Farrell said. "It may just come from the amount of repetition in those first set of starts to get to that point."
Thames relishes the joy of first home run
TORONTO -- Blue Jays rookie Eric Thames doesn't mind that his first Major League home run just barely scraped over the fence in deep left-center field -- he'll take it.
"Wherever it lands, it doesn't matter," the excited young outfielder said of a hit he'll never forget. "If it's over the fence, it's over the fence. I barreled it -- it was hit hard."
The second the ball landed, Blue Jays bullpen catcher Alex Andreopoulos sprung into action to retrieve the keepsake. Thames said that he would put the home run ball on his dresser at home in San Jose, Calif., next to the ball from his first Major League hit.
The bat that Thames used to hit the homer, however, isn't going anywhere.
"I got sawed off against Jake Westbrook the first game back [from Triple-A], and ever since I've been using the same bat," Thames said. "So hopefully I can keep it going a little bit."
Thames certainly didn't admire the solo shot that led off the bottom of the sixth inning and tied Wednesday night's game, which the Blue Jays would go on to win, 2-1. The second he made contact, Thames took off out of the batter's box like a bullet and kept running briskly all the way around the bases.
"I've always done that," Thames said. "I've been taught to play the game hard and run hard all the time. Maybe when I'm a veteran I'll hit a ball and just watch it and trot, but as of now I'll keep running."
Thames is in his second stint with the Blue Jays this season after a 13-game audition in May, when he hit .286 (12-for-42) with two doubles and four RBIs. The 24-year-old has a hit in each of his four games since being recalled last week, going 6-for-18 with three doubles.
Travis Snider will be back in the lineup at Triple-A Las Vegas on either Thursday or Friday, as he has completely recovered from a concussion that he suffered two weeks ago.
Casey Janssen continues to rehab his sore right forearm and will join Class A Dunedin on a rehab assignment this weekend. He threw a bullpen session on Wednesday and reported that his arm was feeling good.
Jason Frasor pitched a scoreless eighth inning Wednesday night, which tied him with Tom Henke for second on Toronto's all-time appearances list with 446 outings. Frasor is just six games shy of the club's all-time leader, Duane Ward, who appeared in 452 games in a Blue Jays uniform.
Arden Zwelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.