Stroman’s strong outing a welcome sign for Blue Jays

Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Randal Grichuk talks about making a nice catch late in the game and picking up a couple hits against Baltimore Orioles pitcher Alex Cobb.

TORONTO – It was less than a week ago that the Toronto Blue Jays wrapped up the first half of the season with Marcus Stroman on the mound against the Boston Red Sox.

Stroman pitched fine, but the Blue Jays lost. Afterwards, the right-hander bristled at a scrum question, and responded in part by saying the Blue Jays are “(expletive) terrible right now.”

This time Stroman was far more effective on the mound, pitching seven innings in a 4-1 Blue Jays win over the Orioles. That kind of performance has often eluded Stroman this year, but it’s a welcome sign for a Blue Jays team with plenty of questions on its pitching staff.

“He’s a pretty good pitcher to be honest with you,” manager John Gibbons said. “Since he’s come back from the DL he’s been really good. He’s pitching like he’s always pitched here.”

Then there’s the off-field side of things. After the game, Stroman had a more measured tone with the media. When asked about the second half, he emphasized the importance of a strong finish.

“I’m pretty good with adversity usually,” Stroman said. “This game is built on ups and downs. I didn’t have the first half I wanted, but I’ve always been someone who’s prided myself on the second half and finishing strong and that’s something I’ll look to continue to do this year.”

Last Sunday at Fenway Park, Stroman was critical of his team’s recent play. This time, his tone was different.

“I love our team,” Stroman said. “I wouldn’t want any other guys. It’s just a matter of going out there and knowing what we’re capable of and going out and dominating.”

While the Blue Jays will likely trade many veterans over the next 10 days, Stroman says he believes in his team’s core.

“This is something new,” Stroman said. “We’re used to being in the playoffs the last few years. Obviously not last year, but it’s going to be hard, definitely hard to see guys go if that’s the case. We’ve had this core group of guys for the last few years and I feel like it’s definitely going to be weird if some guys start to leave.”

Those trades will happen eventually, but on Sunday the focus returned to the field. Stroman struck out seven Orioles over his seven innings while allowing just five hits and two walks. One reason for the strikeouts – his breaking ball and fastball complemented one another as he generated 17 swings and misses.

The first hitter of the game scored, as the Orioles strung together three hits in the first inning to score Tim Beckham. From there on, Stroman was effective, stranding a leadoff double in the fourth but otherwise avoiding major threats.

After collecting hits in each of his first two at-bats, Adam Jones poked fun at Stroman with a faux-shimmy in reference to his opponent’s varied deliveries. From the mound, Stroman appreciated the gesture from Jones, whom he considers a friend.

“He’s been someone that’s reached out to me from the first time I got in the league and has honestly been kind of a mentor of mine,” Stroman said. “He told me a few things about how to handle myself on and off the field from 2014 from when I was a rookie. He’s someone who’s always been there for me and he makes the game very fun.”

The Blue Jays did most of their damage at the plate in the third inning, when Randal Grichuk doubled home a Justin Smoak walk and Luke Maile hit a two-out RBI single.

The following inning, Teoscar Hernandez’s baserunning helped the Blue Jays add to their lead. Hernandez doubled and advanced to third on a fly ball before dancing far off third base with the Orioles in a shift against Yangervis Solarte. Startled, right-hander Alex Cobb balked, allowing Hernandez to score Toronto’s fourth run.

Grichuk got the start in centre field for the third consecutive game, and made a convincing Kevin Pillar impression in the ninth inning to rob Mark Trumbo of extra-bases. That kind of play suggests the Blue Jays can still get quality centre-field defence while Pillar recovers on the disabled list.

“He’s showing us he can play it,” Gibbons said of Grichuk. “And he’s swinging the bat, too. He looks a heck of a lot better than he did earlier in the year. He looks confident. But yeah, he can play out there no problem I would think.”

Seung-hwan Oh and Ryan Tepera combined to record the last six outs Saturday, retiring all six batters they faced. After a blown save by Tyler Clippard Friday, Gibbons turned to Tepera for the save and was pleased to see him respond with a one-two-three inning.

Most importantly for the Blue Jays, Stroman was at his best. He was effective on the field and measured off of it – an ideal combination and one that eluded him a week ago. Now it’s up to him to replicate that as often as possible as the second half unfolds.

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