Stroman focused on competing as Blue Jays trade rumours continue to swirl

Joe Siddall, Cliff Floyd and Jamie Campbell discuss the reaction from the Boston television crew after Marcus Stroman struck out Eduardo Nunez.

NEW YORK — Have you seen this? Have you heard about this? Marcus Stroman was pitching against the Boston Red Sox on Sunday, and after working a tidy, scoreless six innings, he let out a celebratory roar towards the opposition’s dugout. He does this, you know. Very emotional player, that Stroman. Fun to watch.

Well, you’ll never guess what happened next. Dennis Eckersley, the hall-of-fame pitcher and current Red Sox broadcaster whose Wikipedia page literally refers to his pitching style as “aggressive and animated on the mound,” didn’t like it one bit. He called Stroman’s celebration “tired.” Eckersley! Of all people!

Anyway, Tweets were sent. Blogs were composed. The giant sports media hamster wheel of takes spun ’round and ’round. And Monday, as his team began a three-game set in the Bronx against the New York Yankees, Stroman was given the opportunity to respond. Did Eckersley’s comments bother him? Is he mad?

“More shocked than mad. I’m not mad. I honestly was laughing at the entire thing, to be honest with you,” Stroman said. “More shocked because I was very aware of how animated he was as a pitcher. So, just very shocked to hear it coming from him. I thought he would be someone to kind of praise it. If I was on the Red Sox, he’d probably be praising it.”

Stroman’s not on the Red Sox, of course, but he could be on the Yankees at some point soon, as the July 31 trade deadline rapidly approaches. New York’s front office is said to be seeking a starting pitcher, as they perpetually seem to be at this time of year, and Stroman’s one of the best — if not the best — available.

Considering Stroman’s from Long Island, doesn’t shy away from the spotlight, and has proven big game pedigree — he’s excelled in high-stress spots both in the playoffs and at the World Baseball Classic — the Yankees appear to be a perfect landing spot for the 28-year-old if and when the Blue Jays trade him. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that he’s allowed only one run over 12 innings pitched in his two starts against the division-rival Red Sox this season.

It’s no secret that Stroman loves pitching in New York, either. He says he considered asking the Blue Jays to push his scheduled Sunday start against Boston back to Monday so he could pitch in front of friends and family at Yankee Stadium. But the Blue Jays, currently carrying a beleaguered pitching staff that had trouble simply covering nine innings in the Red Sox series, were in no position to be making such accommodations.

“We’re a little thin right now on starting pitching,” Stroman said. “So, the priority is helping the team. But I love pitching in New York. I’m from here. I hope I get that opportunity soon.”

Stroman actually hasn’t fared particularly well at Yankee Stadium in his career, carrying a 6.37 ERA over 9 starts in the Bronx. He hasn’t pitched in New York yet in 2019, but did so twice last season, allowing 11 earned runs over 9.1 innings. Still, Stroman says he relishes every opportunity he gets to perform in his home state.

“I love it. New York’s like the mecca of the world, right? I love excitement. I love bright lights. I love competition. I love pressure. So, I’ve always loved pitching here,” he said. “Even though I haven’t necessarily pitched fairly well here, I’ve always enjoyed it. These Yankee lineups are brutal. They’re hard to kind of navigate. So, yeah, I love the spotlight. I’ve always loved it. The bigger the moment, that’s kind of where I’ve always wanted to be.

“I’m built for this. I mean, anybody can say whatever. But I’m built for the bright lights and the moment. And I’m not scared of it. I’ve never been. I’ll take that ball each and every time with the pressure on. I love it.”

A great deal of interest and attention certainly seems to follow Stroman wherever he goes, whether he’s beefing with a broadcaster in Boston, or hosting his brother Jayden’s little league baseball team at batting practice in New York, all of them outfitted in “HDMH” uniforms and hats.

Even at his locker in the visitors’ clubhouse, where a small battalion of New York media swarmed and peppered Stroman with questions about his season, being at the centre of trade speculation, and the possibility of wearing pinstripes someday soon.

Has the reality set in that you’ll likely be pitching for another team in a few weeks?

“I think that’s kind of set in. I think, obviously, it’s hard to ignore all the rumours. And I don’t think I’m at a point where they’re going to sign me long-term. So, I’ve kind of come to terms with it. But it’s not something that I’m thinking about daily. I’m truly just living day-to-day. And whatever happens, happens.”

Do you hear about the trade speculation from family and friends?

“They know better. My family knows that when I leave the clubhouse, honestly, I don’t like to talk about anything baseball. Not even sports. I like it to just be about whatever is happening in their life. I like to really, truly get away from the game. So, they’re aware of it. They’re hearing it more than anybody. But they know where I’m at mentally and they kind of just let me be.”

Do you expect it to get harder to tune out the rumours as the trade deadline approaches?

“I think I’m in a good place. I think I’m good, to be honest with you. I don’t think its going to be hard to tune out. I’ve come to terms with the possibility of possibly being moved at some point. So, there’s not much more I can do right now. It’s out of my control. All talks that will happen will be held between my people and upper management. So, I’ll kind of be out of it. I’m focused. I’m honestly focused. I’m really focused on my body, my arm, my mind, doing everything I can to go out there and dominate each and every start.”

Do you want to be traded to New York?

“No comment. I don’t know. I don’t even want to think about it like that, just because I literally have no idea how it’s going to play out or where it’s going to go. So, I don’t like getting all my eggs in one basket or getting excited because it can completely turn out differently”

If you do end up in New York, would you find all the ticket requests distracting?

“Nah. I have a very small circle, to be honest with you. My family’s very small. I have a few best friends and my dog. I’m at a great place mentally. So, I don’t see it being a hassle at all. I’m just looking forward to competing, wherever it may be.”

Which is what’s important, after all — competing. Stroman’s having a tremendous season, his 3.04 ERA ranking him within the top-20 starters in the game. He’s thrown 11 of Toronto’s 23 quality starts and is on pace to throw his third career 200-inning season, which is quite a feat in today’s game. His 60.7 per cent groundball rate since the beginning of 2016 is tops among MLB’s 147 qualified pitchers over that span.

That’s why every trade deadline buyer — the Yankees included — should want to acquire him. For all the gossip and commotion that follows him around — especially in New York — it’s what Stroman does on the mound that matters most. Observers like Eckersley can take issue with the things Stroman does and says. But they can’t deny his stuff.

“My stuff’s my stuff. You can judge my stuff. I know who I am as a competitor. I know who I am when the bright lights turn on,” Stroman said. “I think my track record kind of speaks for itself at this point, you know what I mean? I compete. I get a lot of groundballs. I get strikeouts when I need them. And it is what it is.”

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