DUNEDIN, Fla. — Four games into the Grapefruit League season, it was curious that Toronto Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman had yet to make his spring training debut, or even been scheduled to take the mound sometime soon. Tuesday morning, Blue Jays manager John Gibbons revealed why.
Stroman’s battling right shoulder inflammation. He’s been instructed by the club’s training staff to cease throwing for several days. His return to the mound will depend on how his recovery progresses. Neither he nor the Blue Jays seem overly concerned about it. But this certainly isn’t what you want.
“It’s just been a little tender,” Gibbons said. “It’s really nothing out of the norm for most guys. But he’s never had it, that I can remember. So it’s just one of those things. Back him off, get rid of it, and he should be fine.”
Stroman says he first experienced the shoulder discomfort this January as he began ramping up his throwing program ahead of the season. He attempted to pitch through it for a while until he reached a breaking point during a bullpen session Sunday, when he was visibly frustrated with how he was feeling on the mound.
Stroman went for an MRI shortly after, which didn’t indicate any structural damage but did reveal the inflammation. The plan now is to shut Stroman down for a short period of time so he can focus on treatment and rest. He says he’s hoping to resume throwing within four to five days.
“When you start building back up you’re always dealing with little kinks and things. It just didn’t get to where I wanted it to be,” Stroman said. “It’s something that I could probably get through if I needed to get through it.
“It’s just something that I’d rather deal with now and get it out rather than have something linger throughout the year. I’d rather just knock it out now and be good for the year.”
Stroman, easily Toronto’s best pitcher last season when he posted a 3.09 ERA over 201 innings pitched, was the Blue Jays’ presumptive starter for opening day. That’s now very unlikely, but Stroman says he’s hopeful he’ll be ready to play by the beginning of the season.
The first time the Blue Jays will need a fifth starter is Monday, April 2, when they begin a three-game series with the Chicago White Sox. That gives Stroman a little less than five weeks to get over the inflammation and prepare for the season, which he hopes is all he’ll need.
“I’m totally all for being back for the beginning of the season,” Stroman said. “I get ready extremely quick. My body is my body. I operate at a high level. And, once my arm’s ready to go, I’ll be ready to go. I won’t need to go out here (at spring training) and get a bunch of games in. Once my arm’s ready, I’ll be ready.”
Stroman’s been tinkering with throwing from different arm slots throughout spring, but the 26-year-old says it’s something he’s done his entire life and that he doesn’t feel the different deliveries contributed to the inflammation.
A more likely culprit is the fact Stroman’s thrown 438.2 innings over the last two seasons, including spring training and playoffs. He’s thrown the seventh-most regular-season innings of any MLB pitcher since 2016, and faced the fifth-most batters. He’s one of only nine pitchers to throw north of 400 MLB innings over that span.
That’s a lot of work. And a lot of work leads to a lot of wear and tear. But the fact the MRI “came back super clean” — Stroman’s words — is encouraging.
Plus, inflammation is an issue nearly all pitchers deal with. MLB training staffs are well versed in the best ways to treat it, whether with massage, anti-inflammatory medication, a cortisone shot, or merely rest. Stroman is surely not the only Blue Jays pitcher working through inflammation this spring.
“Obviously, you’re always dealing with things,” he said. “Over the course of time, you have spurts where you’re battling shoulder fatigue or shoulder soreness. But it’s nothing I’m even slightly worried about.
“I look at this as an opportunity to make my arm stronger. To grow physically, mentally, emotionally. I look at any type of adversity as just an opportunity to get better.”
Nevertheless, Toronto’s decision to keep Joe Biagini stretched out and building up as a starter, even after the acquisition of Jaime Garcia, was a prudent one. That means the Blue Jays are protected in case Stroman has to begin the season on the disabled list.
Of course, that’s a discussion for a much later day. For now, Stroman will take a few days, focus on his recovery, and work towards ensuring this setback remains just that, and not something more.
“Just get the inflammation out, revamp my throwing program, and work back from there,” Stroman said. “I look at this as an opportunity to get better and stronger from it. And that’s what I’ll do.”