CHICAGO – For two years, this was the norm for Marcus Stroman. He’d get ground balls, attack the strike zone and pitch lots of innings.
Now, after an injury-interrupted 2018 season, he’s doing it again. Stroman allowed just one earned run over six innings Thursday, though the Toronto Blue Jays lost 4-2 to the Chicago White Sox after a successful squeeze play sparked a two-run rally against reliever Derek Law in the eighth.
Stroman is now 10 starts into the season with a 2.95 ERA that ranks ninth in the American League. The Blue Jays couldn’t have hoped for more production to this point in the year.
“He’s been outstanding,” manager Charlie Montoyo said. “I knew in spring training the moment I saw he was healthy, he’s going to be good.”
Stroman said all spring his shoulder and finger issues were behind him, but some uncertainty lingered until he put together this extended run of effective starts. Having gotten this far, Stroman’s expecting improvement as the season progresses.
“To be honest, I think I’m going to get better,” Stroman said. “I know where I’m going to be at the end of the year. I’m usually a second-half pitcher. I’m going to continue to get better and continue to get stronger, so I wasn’t lying when I said I felt really good in spring training.
“I’m just looking forward to the rest of this year.”
If Stroman’s prediction comes true and he keeps pitching better, the trade rumours around him will intensify over the summer. Of course teams will inquire about Stroman, who’s a free agent after 2020. And of course the Blue Jays will listen, as they did over the winter. Finding common ground in trade talks could even be easier this time, since Stroman looks like a healthy impact starter again.
As Freddy Galvis put it, “He’s been dealing all year.”
Regardless, that’s months away. For now, the production comes at an opportune time for the Blue Jays, who are down to four starters even with newcomer Edwin Jackson in the rotation. Clayton Richard was in Chicago with the team, but he will rehab in the minors instead of starting for the Blue Jays, who may now need a bullpen day Saturday.
A rare error from Galvis led to an unearned run in the first inning, but the shortstop made up for it minutes later by hitting a solo homer over the right field wall.
“Nobody wants to make errors, but sometimes you do,” Galvis said. “The mentality is to bring that run back to the team.”
That wasn’t the only defensive miscue for the Blue Jays, however. In the second inning, Jonathan Davis took his time fielding a Yolmer Sanchez ground ball up the middle, but Sanchez was sprinting so he reached second base on a ball that should have been a single.
“A learning lesson,” Montoyo said. “Now he knows.”
Stroman did get some support from his defenders later. In the fourth inning, Billy McKinney crashed hard into the left field wall to rob Sanchez of a hit with an impressive grab. McKinney was in left because the Blue Jays optioned Teoscar Hernandez to triple-A earlier in the day in the hopes he can bounce back at the plate. Chances are Hernandez doesn’t make that catch, but to be fair, few left fielders would.
Two innings after McKinney’s catch, Danny Jansen helped Stroman complete a strike-him-out throw-him-out double-play to escape the sixth. Jansen also walked to lead off the eighth, though the Blue Jays couldn’t come up with a big hit to score him.
In fact, Toronto had trouble coming up with hits of any kind. Aside from the Galvis homer, it only had one: a Brandon Drury single in the second inning.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. went 0-for-4 as the designated hitter, though his first inning line-out left his bat at 115.5 m.p.h. On another quiet night for the Blue Jays’ lineup that counts as noteworthy.
As a result, another strong start goes to waste. Stroman may have returned to form, but the same can’t be said of this Blue Jays offence.
“I didn’t see it coming like this,” Montoyo said. “The beautiful thing about baseball is tomorrow’s a new day … but the bats haven’t been there for the past couple of weeks–or more than that.”