ST. PETERSBURG -- The list of Blue Jays pitchers taking part in the weighted-ball program to increase velocity and shoulder strength continues to grow.
Right-hander Dustin McGowan has now jumped on board and joins a group that already includes Steve Delabar, Brett Cecil and Casey Janssen. Former Blue Jays reliever Jason Frasor is also a participant, while last year's manager John Farrell has his sons on the program as well.
The Velocity Program was designed by Jamie Evans and has been credited with helping Delabar return from a devastating right elbow injury. The workout routine involves the use of weighted balls to increase overall strength and improve the ability to bounce back from outings on the mound.
"I just wanted to do something different," said McGowan, who has undergone multiple shoulder surgeries over the past several years. "I knew recovery has been the worst part, so they set up a program that would help recovery and so far it's been awesome.
"I pitched yesterday, and today, no soreness whatsoever. Been doing it for three weeks now, and it's working pretty well."
McGowan first became interested in the program after a lengthy discussion with Cecil during Spring Training. Cecil started the program in the offseason and went from throwing in the high 80s to now pitching in the 93-95 mph range.
The velocity is of secondary concern for McGowan. His first priority is finding a way to remain healthy on the mound after having only thrown 21 big league innings in the past four years.
Evans' program has pitchers using the weighted balls in various holds to help build up the muscle. They also go through pitching motions, but don't release the ball. Each program is individualized.
"We need to crawl before we walk, so we started out slow and kind of built up," McGowan said. "It took a few days. At first you're a little skeptical, because you don't know what to expect, but after three or four days, you start feeling the difference."
McGowan, who is currently on the 60-day disabled list is expected to begin a rehab assignment with Class A Dunedin at some point next week. There is no immediate timetable for his return to the big leagues.
Santos getting closer to return from DL
ST. PETERSBURG -- Sergio Santos is expected to be out for another two weeks because of tightness in his right triceps muscle.
Santos has been on the disabled list since the middle of April, but has slowly begun to make some progress in his recovery. He is set to appear in games in extended spring training on Thursday and Saturday before starting a rehab assignment early next week with Class A Dunedin.
The only problem is that Santos is not completely symptom free. He is still experiencing some discomfort in the triceps area, but it has improved in recent weeks and potentially could be considered normal soreness.
"I think it's gotten to a point where it's very manageable and to where I can go out and pitch," Santos said. "I think that's why we really want to push it this week -- to kind of see where I'm at.
"To me, back-to-back [days] is big because I know I'm going to be doing it quite a bit. Hopefully we're winning and that will happen, but [I'm] just looking forward to that, getting back out and hopefully joining this team soon."
On the surface, the right triceps appears to have taken a lot more time to heal than originally expected. Santos hasn't pitched since April 13, and at the time the team stated it hoped to have him back in 15 days.
That clearly didn't happen, but Santos said he's only five days behind what he first expected. He initially went seven days without throwing and then advanced to 90 feet and then 120 feet before getting back on the mound.
Santos does have some security, in that an MRI last month didn't reveal any structural damage. He is currently dealing with inflammation and Santos said the discomfort he's feeling now doesn't necessarily raise red flags.
"No, because I think it's just, if you were to ask anybody who was kind of coming back ... I mean you feel it early on," said Santos, who missed almost all of last year with a right shoulder injury.
"It's not anywhere near where I was feeling when I first injured it. There's not any kind of lingering pain or anything that way. It's just something that I'm hoping I can kind of get through right now and get back out."
Drabek, Hutchison on schedule in recovery
ST. PETERSBURG -- Right-handers Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison remain on schedule in their recovery from Tommy John surgery.
Both pitchers are throwing bullpens and expect to begin facing live hitters in approximately three weeks. The side sessions have taken place without incident and they're currently using all of their pitches.
This marks the second time Drabek is attempting to return from an elbow injury. He previously underwent Tommy John surgery when he was a prospect in the Phillies system, and while that's not exactly encouraging news, it does give him a base of knowledge from which to work.
"With the Phillies the first time I had it, I was actually home for a while just relaxing and letting it somewhat heal," Drabek said. "Here, we were ready to go, cast off, stretching and I think it's helped out a bunch.
"I haven't had a setback yet with my arm, so I'm excited about that."
The Blue Jays have said they don't want either pitcher to return until a full calendar year has gone by since the surgeries. Drabek went under the knife in mid-June, while Hutchison underwent the same procedure in early August.
The recovery time is purposely slow to let the arm gradually build up endurance and limit the possibility of a setback. It can be a frustrating process, but one that each pitcher knows he has to go through on the road back to the Major Leagues.
"You always want to do more, but you know you have to follow the process and do what they tell you to do, because that's what's in your best interest," Hutchison said. "I feel good, which is good, but you also realize that it's the process and you need to follow the process."
Hutchison and Drabek have spent the spring rehabbing alongside left-hander Luis Perez, who also underwent Tommy John surgery last year. Perez had the surgery performed in late July, but appears to be recovering faster than his counterparts.
Part of that is because Perez is a reliever and doesn't need to build up the same type of endurance, but it's another encouraging sign for the Blue Jays' brass.
"Right now, me and Hutch are pretty much on the same schedule," Drabek said. "Luis's on a little different one because he's ahead. So we all stretch together, [practice fielding] together, all that stuff. As far it goes, I throw with Hutch every day. Same day, same bullpen, so it works out nice."