TORONTO — Mark Buehrle and RA Dickey never lit up radar guns, never struck batters out in bunches, never left an opposition lineup looking particularly overwhelmed. But each man did provide a crucial, underrated service during their tenures as Toronto Blue Jays: they gobbled up innings.
Buehrle threw 198.2 or more innings in each of his three seasons in Toronto, accumulating 604.1 in all. Dickey surpassed the 200 mark in three of his four campaigns, finishing with 824.1 as a Blue Jay.
That’s a lot of work. And when Toronto shed both those pitchers over the last two seasons, it left a vital role unfilled in Toronto’s rotation. Who was going to carry the load for the Blue Jays pitching staff? Who was going to be the workhorse?
Enter Marcus Stroman, who allowed two runs (both unearned) on six hits over six innings Wednesday night in Toronto’s 2-1 loss to the Baltimore Orioles. That outing brought Stroman’s season total up to 184.1 innings pitched (with a 3.08 ERA that sits fourth in the American League, mind you).
“That’s big — ideally you have a couple of them doing it,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said of Stroman’s innings-eating. “It makes a huge difference on a pitching staff. You can count on them, they’re reliable, they save your bullpen — all that good stuff.”
Assuming he remains healthy and effective over his three remaining starts, Stroman is a very good bet to accumulate the 15.2 frames he needs for his second consecutive 200-inning season. In fact, Stroman has now pitched the eighth-most innings in baseball over the last two years with 388.1.
The pitchers Stroman is chasing atop that list — Chris Sale, Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello, Max Scherzer, Corey Kluber, Jeff Samardzija and Chris Archer are above him — is a who’s who of MLB aces. And with each solid start he throws in his fourth MLB season, Stroman is continually proving he deserves the company he keeps.
“I want to get there — that’s a huge goal of mine,” Stroman said of the 200-inning plateau. “I think that’s part of being an ace — being able to go out there, give your team 200-plus innings every year. It’s getting harder and harder to do with all the analytics and statistics today. So, I’m trying to do everything I can to get there. That’s something that I pride myself on. I want to get to that number.
“Being able to go out there every fifth day and be able to go deep into games, there’s so many positive effects that come from that, like giving the bullpen rest. You don’t realize how much that does over the course of a season.”
Stroman was his usual self Wednesday night, pumping two-seamers down in the zone to earn 10 groundball outs. He also racked up 12 swinging strikes, eight of them with his slider which has been an extremely difficult pitch to hit all season.
Some shoddy defence allowed the Orioles to get to Stroman in the first inning, as Josh Donaldson threw wide of first to allow leadoff hitter Tim Beckham to reach on a groundball and, an out later, bobbled a double play ball off the bat of Jonathan Schoop that would have gotten Stroman out of the inning.
A fly ball to left from Adam Jones could have sent Stroman into the dugout again, but Teoscar Hernandez misread the play and broke in, letting the ball fly over his head for a run-scoring double. Stroman then left a 2-2 slider up and over the plate to Trey Mancini, who crushed it to the wall in right-centre for a triple, cashing Jones with the inning’s second unearned run.
“I think I made some good pitches there. The only pitch I regret is the pitch to Mancini,” Stroman said. “I got in on Jones. He didn’t hit it on the barrel, he just kind of muscled it out there. But the slider to Mancini just kind of slipped. I usually pride myself on being better in those situations. I didn’t do what I needed to do in those given circumstances.”
Stroman avoided trouble from there until the fourth, when a leadoff double followed by consecutive walks loaded the bases with none out. But after a brief visit from Blue Jays pitching coach Pete Walker, Stroman rallied to strike out Seth Smith on three pitches and get Caleb Joseph to ground into an inning-ending double play.
Gibbons and Blue Jays head trainer George Poulis made a mound visit of their own with one out in the sixth, conferring with Stroman after catching him grimacing following a pitch.
The 26-year-old has been pitching through the aftereffects of a 108-mph Mark Trumbo liner that ate him up in a start earlier this month. But while Stroman’s been experiencing occasional tightness in his forearm ever since, he doesn’t believe it’s anything that will cause him to miss an outing.
“People forget I got hit by a missile from Trumbo two starts ago,” Stroman said. “And I threw six days after that. So, I’m still battling. It’s nothing I’m worried about. I just had a little tightness on one particular pitch. But it felt fine the pitch after. … It’s nothing new. I’ll be fine for my next start.”
Stroman stayed in the game, allowing a pair of baserunners before escaping the inning with his second double play of the night (Stroman leads MLB with 31 double plays turned while he’s on the mound). But he didn’t return for a seventh inning, coming out of the game with his pitch count at 92.
Meanwhile, Baltimore starter Kevin Gausman’s mix of fastballs, splitters and sliders proved too much for the Blue Jays, who put plenty of balls in play with little to show for it. Gausman worked his fastball all over the zone, varying its speed between 91 and 97 mph, while using his 81-mph slider to keep hitters off balance and generate weak contact.
The Blue Jays got their lone run off Gausman in the third when Hernandez atoned for his earlier gaffe by hammering a double to deep right field. He moved to third on a groundout and scored when a Richard Urena flare fell in for a double of his own.
But the Blue Jays stranded two runners in that inning, and two more in the fourth, as opportunities to break through against Gausman slipped through their grip. The right-hander left after the seventh, turning things over to Darren O’Day and Zach Britton, who earned the final six outs in short order.