TORONTO — There’s no room for doubt in Marcus Stroman‘s mind.
The 24-year-old will start for the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday in Game 5 of the American League Division Series against the Texas Rangers. Stroman, who missed the majority of the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, is very sure of himself headed in to the biggest game of his young career.
"I would say I’m confident. Some people may call it cocky. It is what it is," said the five-foot-eight Stroman on Tuesday afternoon. "It’s something that my dad kind of raised me with, a huge chip on my shoulder. I’m not scared to say that, I’m extremely confident. That’s something that I pride myself on, that’s the reason I’m at where I’m at.
"Something my father kind of raised me on. He always told me I’m going to be the smallest guy in the room so I have to be the most confident and that’s something that I kind of pitch with today."
That self-confidence has not gone unnoticed by his teammates in Toronto. Manager John Gibbons loves Stroman’s attitude and is pleased to put the pitcher in the decisive game of the best-of-five ALDS.
"His parents did a tremendous job with him," said Gibbons. "He’s smart, intelligent, he’s got everything going. But he’s cocky. He’s one of those guys, you know, you think OK, he believes he can do it but let’s see it."
Stroman exceeded all expectations and returned to the Blue Jays’ starting rotation in early September after injuring his knee at spring training. He won all four games he started in September with 18 strikeouts and a 1.67 earned-run average. He was solid in his only post-season start, giving up four runs — three earned — and striking out five over seven innings of work in Toronto’s 6-4, 14-inning loss in Game 2.
He said that being put in this kind of situation, with the Blue Jays’ season on the line, is exactly what he used to motivate himself during his rehabilitation process at Duke University in North Carolina.
"Obviously it’s a perfect situation that kind of played out in my head," said Stroman at a news conference in the bowels of Rogers Centre. "And it’s happening, and I mean, I get the chills even just thinking about being in the position that I am now, just coming from where I came.
"I’m so ready and just thankful for everybody in my corner who’s helped me along the way."
Blue Jays first baseman Chris Colabello, who befriended Stroman in the minor leagues, loves the energy the young pitcher brings to the mound.
"Stro just exudes greatness, confidence, belief, whatever word you want to use to describe him, he’s all of that," said Colabello. "Watching him pitch brings energy to the fans, brings energy to us. He is who he is for a reason."
Left-hander Cole Hamels gets the start for Texas on Wednesdayand is the opposite of Stroman in terms of experience. The 2008 World Series MVP has started in 14 post-season games with a 7-4 record, 83 strikeouts and a 3.08 ERA. Thursday will be Stroman’s second career post-season start.
"His record and resume kind of speaks for itself," said Stroman of Hamels. "He’s special, he’s an elite talent, he’s done it in the playoffs. He’s proven and he’s nasty, he’s got some unbelievable stuff as a lefty. So it’s going to be a battle the whole game for us.
"Our guys are going to have to step in the box, and really grind out some tough at-bats. And I’m going to have to do everything in my power to keep their lineups in check."
Gibbons said ace David Price is "not here to be abused" and that he wouldn’t count on the star lefty being available for Game 5 at Rogers Centre. Price, who was Toronto’s Game 1 starter, was used as a reliever in Game 4’s 8-4 victory on Monday, coming in after knuckleballer R.A. Dickey pitched 4 2/3 innings.
Without Price, Aaron Loup would be the only left-hander available out of the bullpen. Loup, however, is away from the Blue Jays right now as he attends to a personal matter.
"It’s a family matter, it’s a delicate thing for us to even talk about it," said general manager Alex Anthopoulos. "We’re there to support him with whatever he needs."