Blue Jays’ Stroman adds new pitch to repertoire

Ben Nicholson-Smith talks about the performances by Marcus Stroman and Jesse Chavez against the Houston Astros.

KISSIMMEE, Fla. – Marcus Stroman’s newest pitch doesn’t require extra velocity or crazy spin. It’s a quick pitch designed to keep hitters off-balance by messing with their tempo.

Stroman used the quick pitch a few times against the Houston Astros Sunday on his way to a strong three-inning outing. Never mind that Colby Rasmus hit a quick-pitch change out of the park, Stroman believes the pitch has potential.

“I always like to pick hitters’ brains and the biggest thing sometimes hitters say that messes them up is when pitchers change their tempo, change their motion, change their delivery,” Stroman said.

The pitch looks like a slide-step, and it catches hitters by surprise since they’re expecting a full windup with nobody on base. Stroman describes the pitch as something he’s “playing with” in the hopes of mixing it in “here and there when I feel like I need to.” He hopes it’ll affect those on the bench as well as those in the batter’s box.

“It’s something in the back of their heads, ‘Stro’s got a quick pitch’ that’s only going to help me out,” Stroman said. “It’s something I can use to get guys off my pitches and disrupt timing.”

Stroman pitched three innings against Houston, generating four ground ball outs and four strikeouts, the last of which came against 2015 AL hits leader Jose Altuve. The right-hander said he mixed in all of his pitches and thought his curve was moving especially well. The homer to Rasmus was the lone hit he allowed on a day that he felt good physically.

“I feel extremely strong out there on the mound,” Stroman said. “I feel like everything’s moving very easy and I’m getting on top of pitches and I’m getting action here pretty early.”

Manager John Gibbons liked what he saw from Stroman, the Blue Jays’ presumed opening day starter.

“He’s pretty good. He doesn’t need to get carried away with what he’s doing,” Gibbons said. “Sometimes it’s also good to simplify things, too, so I don’t think it’s going to do too much, but we’re counting on him. In a full year we expect him to be really good.”

The 24-year-old got some assistance from his defence when Kevin Pillar charged in to make a diving catch in centre field.

“Pillar’s always in mid-season form,” Stroman said. “I like when they hit it to centre because I feel like it’s going to be an automatic out.”

OPTIONS GAME: One challenge for the Blue Jays as they consider ways of constructing the opening day roster: they don’t have the flexibility to option all that many players to the minor leagues.

“We’re going to go with the best team,” Gibbons said. “There’s not a whole lot of guys on this team with options, anyway, so that can present a problem as you go into a season, but I still think you need to take the best team regardless of what that is and make adjustments accordingly. It’s a big year”

The Blue Jays’ list of out of options players includes Steve Delabar, A.J. Jimenez, Josh Thole, Junior Lake and Ezequiel Carrera.

UPCOMING DEBUTS: Jose Bautista’s expected to make his spring debut on March 9 or March 10, Gibbons said. The Blue Jays visit the Rays on March 9 and visit the Yankees on March 10. Given that veteran players tend to avoid long road trips, the Yankees game in nearby Tampa seems like the more realistic target.

Meanwhile, Edwin Encarnacion could debut within a few days after working out at the team’s complex in Dunedin, Fla. Sunday. Encarnacion’s spring debut was delayed when he had an abscessed tooth removed.

HUTCHISON WILL START: Drew Hutchison lost his rotation spot at the end of the 2015 season, but Gibbons made it clear that the Blue Jays view him as a starter going forward.

“He’s going to be a good starter,” Gibbons said. “He’s done that for us at the big leagues. He’s had his ups and downs, but I don’t even want to think about bullpen now.”

It’ll be weeks before the Blue Jays determine whether Hutchison starts at the MLB level or at triple-A Buffalo, but his second spring outing went according to plan Saturday.

“Felt pretty good,” Hutchison said. “I think for the most part it was a positive and I look forward to getting on the five-day routine the next time out.”

Hutchison pitched two innings, allowing one earned run with two strikeouts and one walk.