TORONTO – Beyond the impressive numbers Marcus Stroman continues to post, the thing that bodes particularly well for his future is how he’s found ways to recover quickly and adjust after the rare occasions when he’s struggled.
A three-hit shutout in an 8-0 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Monday night was one of the rookie right-hander’s finest outings of the season, and made it three straight wins for him since pair of worrying outings last month.
Stroman, nearly decapitated by a Chris Coghlan liner that went for a 1-6-3 putout to open the game, allowed a Jorge Soler single to lead off the second, promptly erased him on a Wellington Castillo double play and proceeded to mow the NL Central cellar-dwellers down from then on.
The Cubs didn’t manage another hit until Mike Olt’s two-out single in the eighth – ending a run of 19 straight batters sat down. And after Chris Valaika’s single in the ninth, Stroman struck out Chris Coghlan and retired Javier Baez, with the help of a ridiculous play by Ryan Goins, to end it before 16,879 at Rogers Centre.
Not bad a use of 93 pitches.
Coming on the heels of strong outings against Boston and Tampa Bay, his mid-August blip against Chicago, when he allowed five runs and didn’t escape the first inning, and the Rays, when he surrendered six runs, five earned in five innings, is a distant memory.
“Never, never,” Stroman said when asked if his self-belief ever wavered. “My confidence is pretty high because of how much I’ve been doubted my whole life.
“If I throw point-two like I did in Chicago, I know everyone is automatically, ‘Oh, he can’t pitch, he’s too short,’ blah, blah, blah, everything gets readdressed. I just keep that in the back of my mind, the next time I go out I’m even more determined to be even better.”
Stroman certainly has been as he enters unchartered territory by pitching a sixth month for the first time, and the 23-year-old is sprinting to the finish.
The Blue Jays (74-69) are trying to do the same thing, and while barring a comeback of historical proportions it’s too late to save their post-season dreams, by beating the Cubs (64-80) for an eighth win in 11 outings they’re at least trying to do their part to make the highly unlikely happen.
Danny Valencia’s RBI single opened the scoring in the second, Dioner Navarro’s sacrifice fly in the fourth doubled the advantage, Jose Bautista’s three-run shot in the fifth, his 200th with the Blue Jays, padded things out, while Kevin Pillar scoring on Logan Watkins’ error in the seventh plus RBI singles by Navarro and Pillar in the eighth served as gravy.
Still, this was Stroman’s show from start to finish and at 10 wins and counting, he’s been everything the Blue Jays could have hoped for, and more.
“He’s a positive, upbeat guy, he’s got as much confidence as anybody and it’s a lot like (Drew Hutchison) has been,” said manager John Gibbons. “You’re going to get hit around in this game sometimes, nobody goes through a perfect season, but when you see young guys able to bounce back and they don’t let it snowball – some guys it gets in their head, they start doubting themselves, or questioning what they have, they start overthinking. Those guys don’t do that, and for two young guys, they’re ahead of the game.”
It hasn’t all been sunshine and lollipops, either, and to Stroman’s credit, he’s avoided any extended struggles, bouncing back an outing or two after each hiccup.
Debuting as a reliever, Stroman was hit hard in his final two appearances before being sent down to triple-A Buffalo so he could be stretched out, and won his first two starts immediately upon returning.
Surviving just 3.2 innings in a 3-1 loss at Yankee Stadium on June 17, he allowed just one run over eight innings of three-hit ball against the Yankees in his next start.
The Los Angeles Angels roughed him up for six runs, five earned, in 3.2 innings on July 9 but in his next start Stroman threw seven shutout innings against Texas, while a five-run, three-inning blip against Houston on Aug. 3 was followed by nine innings of two-run ball against Detroit.
“I know it sounds super-cliché, but some days you go out there and you don’t have it, maybe you’re underneath your two-seamer and it’s hard to make that adjustment in-game,” said Stroman. “But for the most part when I got out there every time, I have the same confidence, the same game-plan, the same thing every single time. And I’m able to put the bad ones in the past really quickly, which I think helps, I don’t really dwell on anything.”
Stroman got 14 groundball outs against the Cubs largely thanks to the two-seam fastball he introduced a couple of months ago, an addition to his arsenal that’s become a more important weapon. With it as his disposal, he’s able to do more pitching as opposed to throwing, another reason why his teammates continue to gain trust in him.
“The next start after a bad one is when you want to see some character, going back out there and competing and trying to get the lack of success from the previous start behind him, and he’s shown us that throughout the season,” said Bautista. “Even when he first got here, he was in the bullpen and he didn’t do great, he got sent down, he dealt with all that adversity, and came back up and he’s done tremendous for us.”
There’s no arguing that for Stroman, who with a 3.53 ERA in 114.2 innings over 23 games, 18 of them starts, has a ledger sheet weighted heavily toward the good over the bad. The fact that he’s made a habit of bouncing back strong from his bad days gives the Blue Jays reason to believe Stroman can do the same in the seasons to come, too.