Stroman expects to pitch in Blue Jays’ opening series vs. Yankees

Marcus Stroman made his spring training debut as the Toronto Blue Jays split squad beat the Canadian Junior National team 11-3. A special moment as Roy Halladay’s son Braden, pitched a scoreless inning in the loss.

DUNEDIN, Fla. – The disappointment that Marcus Stroman felt after hearing that he wouldn’t start for the Toronto Blue Jays on opening day has gradually given way to excitement.

Stroman struck out two and walked one over two scoreless innings against the Canadian Junior National Team on Saturday in his Grapefruit League debut. Afterwards, he said his previously inflamed shoulder responded well and revealed that he plans to make his season debut April 1 against the New York Yankees.

“I’m ready to rock,” he said.

Stroman’s spring debut was delayed until March 17 because of shoulder inflammation. Though he would have been the Blue Jays’ opening day starter, team decision-makers are wary of rushing him back and causing further damage.

“The shoulder, really, is no big deal, but my experience in this game says sometimes it’s better to be smart than stupid,” manager John Gibbons said Monday.

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Initially, Stroman was disappointed. He was the team’s best pitcher in 2017, when he posted a 3.09 ERA in 201 innings, and had been looking forward to facing the New York Yankees at Rogers Centre.

“I wasn’t happy,” he recalled. “I think I’m OK if I’m not happy about that. You tell me I wasn’t pitching opening day; I didn’t go ‘yes,’ you know what I mean? (But) at this point, now, I’m not mad with the decision. I respect and honour Gibby, our coaches and our front office.”

Stroman expects to pitch in the Blue Jays’ fourth game of the season, meaning he’ll still get the chance to face Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and the Yankees. While some pitchers might prefer to avoid New York’s potent lineup, Stroman’s been looking forward to it for months.

“I want to be the guy to make that statement,” he said. “I can’t wait.”

Between now and then, the right-hander plans to make two more starts: one three- or four-inning outing in which he throws 50-55 pitches and a second outing that pushes him up toward 70-75 pitches. The 27-pitch outing on Saturday represented a significant step forward.

“My pitches are where they need to be, it’s more just with my body and arm, making sure they’re ready to go and they feel great,” Stroman said.

Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.

That said, the Blue Jays will monitor Stroman carefully to see how he responds in the coming days.

“I think (Sunday) will be a big day, just to see how he feels,” Blue Jays bench coach DeMarlo Hale said. “But he felt good and (Russell) Martin said that some of his stuff was good, some of his sink and movement. Those are the little things that you want to hear.”

Those are strong indications that Stroman can, in fact, open the season in the starting rotation. That would push Joe Biagini out of the big-league rotation, likely to triple-A Buffalo until the Blue Jays need rotation reinforcements. Biagini allowed one run over 3.2 innings against the Baltimore Orioles in the Blue Jays’ other split-squad game Saturday, striking out five in Sarasota, Fla., while walking one.

Stroman’s progress represents an encouraging development for the Blue Jays, who would surely sign up for a repeat of his 2017 season. If you ask the 26-year-old, though, he can do more.

“I’m not close to my pinnacle,” he said. “I can promise you that.”

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