DUNEDIN, Fla. – To no one’s surprise, manager John Gibbons announced Wednesday morning that Marcus Stroman will get the start on April 3 when the Toronto Blue Jays open their defence of their American League East division championship in St. Petersburg against Chris Archer and the Tampa Bay Rays.
Stroman, who will be four weeks shy of his 25th birthday on opening day, will become the Blue Jays’ fifth opening day starter in seven years. Roy Halladay got the honour for seven straight seasons, from 2003-2009. Those seven opening day starts remain a Blue Jays record, with Dave Stieb having done it four times and Jimmy Key three. No one else has had more than two opening day starts for the Blue Jays – a list that’s comprised of Jim Clancy, R.A. Dickey, Pat Hentgen, Dave Lemanczyk, Jack Morris and Ricky Romero.
“I want to be the ace,” Stroman said earlier this year. “I’m ready for it, I think I have a good opportunity to run with it and I would love to be the guy to put an end to having a bunch of different opening day starters. I would love to be the guy who’s penciled in every year. That’s why I work as hard as I do.”
Stroman would also be the first choice to start the Blue Jays’ home opener if Marco Estrada needs additional time to recover from back stiffness. An off day following the team’s opening series would allow Stroman to start in Toronto on regular rest.
The Blue Jays had six different opening day starters in six seasons from 1993-1998, with Morris, Juan Guzman, David Cone, Erik Hanson, Hentgen and Roger Clemens each getting the call.
Since Halladay’s final sortie, we’ve seen Shaun Marcum, Romero (twice), Dickey (twice) and Drew Hutchison open the curtain on Blue Jays seasons. Hutchison remains the youngest-ever Blue Jay to do so, followed by Todd Stottlemyre. Stroman will be third on that list.
Stroman was the Blue Jays’ first pick (22nd overall) in 2012, reaching the big leagues two years later and making his first start on May 31, 2014, shutting down the eventual American League champion Kansas City Royals on one run on five hits over six innings. He became only the third Blue Jay ever to strike out six or more without issuing a walk in his first big-league start, joining Jose Nunez and Brett Cecil.
Despite the in-season call-up, Stroman was only the seventh Blue Jays rookie to strike out over 100 batters in a season, and over his 20 starts he went 10-6 with a 3.29 ERA and 1.147 WHIP.
The righty was ticketed for an opening day nod last year, but he suffered a torn knee ligament early in spring training and was thought to be lost for the season. Defying medical odds, Stroman made it back for four September starts in the heat of a pennant race, going 4-0 with a spectacular 1.67 ERA and 0.963 WHIP, becoming the first pitcher in modern major-league history to win his first four starts of the season in September for a first-place team.
Stroman went on to make three post-season starts for the Blue Jays, leaving Game 2 of the ALDS against the Rangers with a 4-3 lead in the eighth and handing Game 5 to Aaron Sanchez for the seventh inning, a frame some might remember.
He started and won Game 3 of the ALCS against Kansas City and was in the bullpen for Game 6, ready to pitch in relief or to start Game 7 had the Blue Jays found a way to win.