Dustin McGowan, a former first-round Draft pick who was named the Blue Jays' No. 1 prospect in 2005 by Baseball America, has worked through some setbacks to become one of the American League's toughest right-handers this season. He's held batters to a .230 batting average, behind only Erik Bedard and Johan Santana, and given up just 129 hits over 150 1/3 innings. After posting a 1.64 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 22 innings for Triple-A Syracuse, Toronto placed Dustin in its rotation following an injury to Gustavo Chacin in May. He received acclaim on June 24 when he no-hit the Rockies for eight innings and came away with a one-hitter and his first complete-game shutout. Overall, the 25-year-old is 10-9 with a 4.01 ERA. He recently answered some questions from MLBPLAYERS.com.

MLBPLAYERS.com: This is your third season in the big leagues. What kind of progress you have made the last few seasons?

McGowan: I think I stalled a bit my first two years up here. I'm starting to get a little better and a little more confident. I think it's only natural that through time and experience I would get into somewhat of a rhythm and it would improve my game. I hope to keep that learning curve going.

MLBPLAYERS.com: When you entered pro ball, what was your timetable for reaching the Majors?

McGowan: To tell you the truth, I really didn't have a timetable for making it to the big leagues when I got drafted. I didn't know what to expect coming out of high school. I just took each level step by step until I got here. I think trying to put a timeline on when I would be up here would only have hampered me. I just tried to focus on things day by day and I think it worked out for me.

MLBPLAYERS.com: How much did the Tommy John surgery set you back?

McGowan: When I found out that I was going to have Tommy John surgery, I kind of knew what to expect as far as the recovery process. I had confidence that I would come back and come back even stronger than before. The only thing that I knew for sure was that it would take me a lot of time to come back. That was the hardest part, being patient. But you have to do what you have to do. It's a matter of persistence and desire.

MLBPLAYERS.com: You are from the Savannah, Ga., area. What can you say about your hometown?

McGowan: The town (Ludowici, Ga.) I grew up in is very small. It has one red light in the entire town. It's about 45 miles south of Savannah. It's a great place to grow up. Everybody knows everyone in the town, which can be both good and bad. I love it there.

MLBPLAYERS.com: A lot of listings have your birthplace as Savannah, Ga.?

McGowan: I was born in a hospital in Savannah. It wasn't the nearest hospital but it was pretty much the biggest. Our town really didn't offer a big hospital, as you can imagine.

MLBPLAYERS.com: Being a baseball player from Georgia, is it safe to say you were a big Braves fan?

McGowan: Growing up, I was an Atlanta Braves fan. It seemed like they were always on TV. I followed all the guys on those great teams in the '90s.

MLBPLAYERS.com: Who were your favorite players from those Braves squads?

McGowan: John Smoltz and Tom Glavine were the two guys I followed the most when I was growing up. They had so many good players that it was hard to pick out just a few. They had Greg Maddux and Steve Avery as well. Their whole pitching staff featured aces then. I was a big pitching fan and loved watching them throw. They made me want to become a pitcher.

MLBPLAYERS.com: Three of those guys are still active. Did you ever think you might square off against one of those pitchers?

McGowan: I never imagined that if I made it up to the big leagues that Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz would still be pitching. I thought they would be retired by the time I made it. But they are still going strong and are still very good.

MLBPLAYERS.com: Did you envision back then playing baseball at any of the good in-state colleges?

McGowan: I got drafted right out of high school. I actually never heard anything from either Georgia or Georgia State.

MLBPLAYERS.com: Were you a good basketball player as well growing up?

McGowan: Yeah, I played a little basketball back then. I wasn't anything special, though. Really, I just enjoyed playing the sport. It was a great way to keep in shape when I wasn't playing baseball. I never thought that I would give Michael Jordan a run for the money, but it was a lot of fun.

MLBPLAYERS.com: You are listed at 6-foot-5. What position did you play?

McGowan: I would say I'm closer to 6-foot-3 than to 6-foot-5. I played guard and forward in basketball. It just depended on which team we were playing. I would say that I was more of a shooter than a ball handler.

MLBPLAYERS.com: Were you tall back then?

McGowan: I wasn't that big growing up. I hit a spurt in high school. I put most of my weight on during my senior year of high school.

MLBPLAYERS.com: Did you have the sideburns that you sport now when you were in high school?

McGowan: These sideburns just came out of me wanting to try something new. Baseball is a game of superstition and they're working for me so far. I don't want to change anything as it is.

Jeff Moeller is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.