Marcus Stroman began the day without assurances that he’d remain in the Toronto Blue Jays’ starting rotation beyond Saturday. By the time the 23-year-old right-hander had completed his start against the Kansas City Royals, he had successfully convinced his manager that he should continue starting.
“You’d be crazy not to,” manager John Gibbons said. “I may be dumb, but I’m not stupid.”
Stroman pitched tremendously in his first big league start, limiting the Royals to one earned run in six innings as the Blue Jays beat the Kansas City Royals 12-2 in front of 31,652 at Rogers Centre.
“He’s got a huge heart. He’s on a mission,” Gibbons said. “He’s one of those guys who’s determined. He’s been counted out a lot in his life for his size,” Gibbons said. “Now he’s in the big leagues and he throws a heck of a game right here in his first start. Guys who have that kind of mindset, there’s no telling how good they can be.”
Stroman’s electric stuff translated into results. With a fastball that consistently sat in the 94-95 mph range, a biting curve and an effective change-up, the 5-foot-9 rookie had all the tools he needed to shut the Royals down in his first big-league appearance since May 14.
Stroman was around the zone consistently, throwing 63 of his 94 pitches for strikes. He struck out six while walking just one batter, further evidence that he wasn't scattering the ball around the zone the way he did when he first came up as a reliever.
“That’s something I always focus on," Stroman said. "I really try to limit my walks and really attack hitters. You never want to put free guys on base.”
The other young right-hander making his first big-league start was as over-matched as Stroman was impressive. Aaron Brooks recorded just two outs for Kansas City, and by the time he left, he was trailing 7-0. The Blue Jays hit right-hander Michael Mariot nearly as hard -- putting the game out of reach as Stroman continued coasting.
“It’s like playing a video game with a cheat team and everyone’s 100 level,” Stroman said of Toronto's lineup.
Though the Blue Jays plated 12 runs, they did so without the help of the home run ball. Adam Lind picked up three hits while driving in two runs and every starter except Anthony Gose collected at least one hit. Toronto has now scored 287 runs on the season -- more than any other MLB team.
“It’s different than what we usually do, but Jose [Bautista] and Eddie [Encarnacion] have been so hot that you can see other pitchers trying to pitch around them and it just creates opportunities for everybody else in the lineup,” Lind said.
If the game had one wrinkle for Toronto it was Juan Francisco’s defence. The third baseman made one error and could easily have been charged with a second miscue. Still, he contributed with two doubles and a single, so there’s no doubting his offensive ability.
The win wrapped up a 21-9 month for the Blue Jays, and while they're pleased to be playing well they can't afford to ease up.
“In ‘08 in May we won 20 games and had the best record in baseball and I got fired three weeks later,” Gibbons said. “I always enjoy a good month, but it means absolutely nothing in June.”
Not only did the 12-2 win improve Toronto’s record to 33-24, it gave the Blue Jays a glimpse of Stroman at his best. Gibbons was non-committal about the possibility of a six-man rotation before Saturday’s game, and it's unclear how Toronto's rotation lines up beyond Mark Buehrle on Sunday and Drew Hutchison on Tuesday. While Stroman stuck to the script and said he's happy to contribute however the Blue Jays need him, it's a question of when he'll start next, not if.
“He was attacking the zone, working fast and that’s what we’re looking for -- for guys to step up and give us some innings,” Gibbons said.
Stroman’s tenure in relief served as a reminder that prospects rarely transition seamlessly to the big leagues, and further struggles will doubtless arise along the way. Not every start will be this dominant.
But if Saturday’s outing against the Royals is any indication, the Blue Jays’ starting rotation is about to get a welcome lift.