Wednesday afternoon, Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons made an announcement that didn’t catch anyone off guard, confirming that righthander Marcus Stroman would get the ball when the team takes the field for the first time this season on April 3.
When last year’s deadline acquisition David Price left town as a free agent, the former first-round pick was the obvious choice to take over as the ace of this staff. After enjoying a strong rookie campaign in 2014 (11-6, 3.65, 1.17 WHIP), the Duke graduate appeared to go down for the season in Spring Training last year, blowing out his ACL during a bunting drill early in camp.
But Stroman declared right away that he would be back before the year was over and he made good on that promise, rejoining the playoff-bound squad for four September starts, where he went 4-0 with a 1.67 ERA and a WHIP below 1.00 before pitching well in the ALDS against Texas and then struggling in his lone ALCS start against the eventual champion Kansas City Royals.
There are a lot of things that have to come together for a team to have a successful season in the majors, but the top of that list for Toronto this year is a healthy, productive, No. 1 starter-type season from Stroman.
The youngster – he turns 25 on May 1 – might be ascending to the top of the rotation quicker than many expected or perhaps even would have liked, but the positive for those that might be skeptical is that Stroman appears ready to accept the assignment.
Example No. 1 is the simple fact that he returned as promised in September last season, with Example No. 2 being the way he performed. While he wasn’t part of the push that got Toronto into contention during the Dog Days of Summer, his four outings down the stretch were very much a factor in getting this team to the playoffs and there is no reason to believe that he isn’t capable of duplicating that performance over the course of the season in 2016.
Now, he isn’t going to go undefeated with an ERA under 2.00, but 15-18 wins is well within reach and he could get to 20 if things break his way.
But perhaps the most important reason to think he’s capable of handling the top spot in the rotation is Stroman’s mentality and demeanour.
He’s a bulldog on the mound and wants to be the guy that has the ball in his hand in pressure situations. After forming a quick bond with Price last year, he tweeted how excited he was to beat him several times this season now that the lefty is leading the rotation for the division rival Boston Red Sox. You want that kind of swagger and moxie from your young stars – that confidence that despite their overall lack of experience, they believe they’re capable of going pitch-for-pitch with anyone in the league.
While consistency and contributions throughout the rotation is crucial, teams need that one man in the rotation that can be a stopper – a guy that can take the mound every fifth day and end a losing streak with a strong outing. Price has been that guy throughout his career and showed that last year in his time with Toronto and now Stroman inherits that mantle heading into this year.
If he’s able to excel in the role and the offense is as potent as expected, Toronto should be in the thick of the chase when September rolls around.