Blue Jays’ Stroman delivers on vow, will start Saturday

Barry Davis sat down with Marcus Stroman after he learned that he's officially back with the Blue Jays and starting on Saturday in what is likely a crucial game against the Yankees in New York.

BOSTON, MA — From practically the moment he woke up after knee surgery this March, Marcus Stroman has told anyone who would listen that he wanted to pitch for the Blue Jays in September. On Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium in New York, he’ll deliver on his vow.

“I knew in the back of my head that if I worked like I knew I could work, if I stayed confident and stayed positive throughout the process, I’d have a realistic shot of coming back this year,” Stroman said after it was announced he’ll start for the Blue Jays against the New York Yankees on Saturday. “It was a tough, long process. But we did it. We made it. We’re here. And I could not be more excited.”

Stroman was informed of the club’s decision Tuesday afternoon at Fenway Park shortly before he hit the field with the rest of the Blue Jays for team stretch. Toronto manager John Gibbons delivered the news in a meeting that also included Blue Jays pitching coach Pete Walker and bench coach DeMarlo Hale.

The start will bring closure on a nearly six-month recovery process that began March 19 when Stroman tore the ACL in his left knee while participating in a spring training bunt drill. The 24-year-old right-hander was expected to miss the entire season and return to the Blue Jays in 2016.

But following surgery to repair the ligament, Stroman spent the next five months aggressively rehabbing his injury in Durham, N.C., while finishing his sociology degree at Duke University. He worked out twice a day, five days a week with physiotherapists under the guide of Duke’s Dr. Robert J. Butler, a consultant for the Blue Jays who specializes in ACL reconstruction.

“The staff I was with are absolute geniuses. They knew when to pull it back and when to go ahead. They monitored every possible thing you can monitor. Without them, I’m not sitting here today,” Stroman said. “The last week when I was at Duke was basically a combine. I did every possible running test, drill, lift and jump you can possibly think of. After I checked off every single one of those boxes I knew I was ready to go. I knew there’s nothing that would happen on a baseball diamond that I couldn’t do.”

Stroman was back throwing on a mound last month and has pitched in two rehab starts so far, with mixed results. He was dominant in his first action of the season on Sept. 2 for the single-A Lansing Lugnuts, throwing 4.2 no-hit innings while striking out seven. But in his next start, on Monday for the triple-A Buffalo Bisons, he lasted just three innings while working on an 80-85 pitch limit, allowing four runs on eight hits and four walks while striking out five.

But in spite of Stroman’s poor results while playing for Buffalo, Blue Jays management feels he’s ready to pitch in the majors and help the team in its tight battle with the Yankees for first place in the AL East. After his second rehab outing, Stroman said he felt completely healthy and ready to return to the majors, a fact that was confirmed by Blue Jays doctors and trainers who ran Stroman through a series of tests when he arrived at Fenway Park Tuesday afternoon. They were checking for any inflammation or swelling that may have occurred in his knee after his 81-pitch outing Monday in Pawtucket. They couldn’t find a thing.

“He’s completely healthy—that’s the first priority,” said Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos. “If there was any type of concern from a health standpoint, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. … There are no issues whatsoever. We’ve asked every doctor and trainer; waited as long as we could; done everything. We’re not concerned.”

Stroman’s performance on Saturday will be closely monitored and critiqued, especially coming off of his outing in Pawtucket when he struggled to find the zone at times and made batters look foolish at others. He’ll be facing his first major league opposition since last September, in what will be an absolutely paramount game for both teams. He’ll likely be budgeted for 95-100 pitches.

It will also be a special start for Stroman personally, as he’s from nearby Medford, Long Island, and was scheduled to start the Blue Jays season opener at Yankee Stadium back in April.

“I was hurt by that. I was really hurt by that. Pitching in front of my family on opening day in my first full season of my big league career, that would’ve been crazy,” Stroman said. “New York’s where I’m from; it’s where I grew up. So, it’s special. My whole family will be there. I’ll be excited. And, more importantly, I’m ready to put our team in a position to win.”

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