TORONTO, ON – MARCH 28: Marcus Stroman #6 of the Toronto Blue Jays says a prayer before pitching in the sixth inning on Opening Day during MLB game action against the Detroit Tigers at Rogers Centre on March 28, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Sitting in the dugout, looking up at the scoreboard, Marcus Stroman examined an all-too-familiar narrative. Opening Day has not been kind to the Toronto Blue Jays. Coming into Thursday’s home opener against the Detroit Tigers, the Jays were looking to snap a streak of seven consecutive losses on Opening Day.

The result would be redundant. While forcing extra innings could be seen as a consolation prize, the reality demonstrates a Blue Jays team that cannot score due to a lack of offense. But if there is a silver lining to take from Thursday’s 2-0 loss to the Tigers, it is Stroman. The 27-year-old tossed seven shutout innings in his second career Opening Day start, allowing two hits, four walks, and generating seven strikeouts. After the rough season Stroman experienced last year, he was eager to get back on the mound.

“Just excitement, to be honest with you,” Stroman said. “I had a pretty bad year last year so I did everything in my power to get right this off-season and I did that. So I’m just excited to toe the rubber every fifth day.”

Stroman Aimed at Putting Last Season Behind Him

The start of a new baseball season brings many hopes for Stroman. For one, it is to put the arduous struggle of last season behind him. Injuries, from shoulder fatigue to a middle finger blister, sidelined the Blue Jays pitcher for large chunks of the 2018 season. Stroman did not record his first win until June 29, similarly taking on the Tigers. The same speed and variety to his pitches were not evident compared to his 2017 campaign.

Stroman went 4-9 last season with a 5.54 ERA. It would be his worst season to date after having a career season in 2017 where he went 13-9 with a 3.09 ERA and 164 strikeouts. In order to get prepared for the bounce-back season, Stroman spent countless hours doing intense off-season activities, enabling his ability to return to top form.

“Got my body to where I need to be,” stated Stroman. “Work ethic was extremely important this off-season. I’m just hoping it all pays off…I’m back to throwing whatever pitch I want in whatever count. Last year I’d throw one pitch, two pitches. I have six pitches.’’

As he took the mound for Game 1 of 162, Stroman was experiencing the early tense jitters. His first batter resulted in a four-pitch walk. But after a few pitches, the speed started to show. Gone was his reliance on two pitches. The Blue Jays ace began showcasing more variety, from breaking curveballs to blitzing fastballs.

The queasiness, while normal, is a fact that Stroman has been working to suppress in order to remain focused in the big moments.

“I don’t eat on days I pitch,” says Stroman. “I want to throw up from the second I wake up. But it kind of lets you know that its game day and I love it. It gives me that exciting nerves that I need in my stomach. If you channel it the right way, it can be used in a positive way.”

Bats Fall Short Amidst Stellar Stroman Performance

In a day where Stroman became the third youngest Blue Jays pitcher to be the Opening Day starter, his batters did not provide the necessary run support. A microcosm of what may come in a long, grueling season for the Blue Jays.

The first hit for Toronto came in the bottom of the seventh by left fielder Teoscar Hernandez. The only other Blue Jays hit was by third baseman Brandon Drury, the former Arizona Diamondback. There were no runners in scoring position. A stark reality for a team trying to find its identity on offense.

It would be relief pitcher Daniel Hudson to give up the only two runs for the Tigers. It would spoil Marcus Stroman’s fantastic inaugural performance back from all the taxing injuries he had to endure last season. But it would also be evidence for his yearning for the big stage. A glorious opportunity to prove that he still can pitch in critical, adverse moments.

“I feel like, as far as big-time games, there’s nobody that I’d want out there more than me,” states Stroman. 

For his career, Stroman has a combined 1.80 ERA (3 ER/15 IP) in his two Opening Day starts. At the start of this season, rumors swirled that his trade stock may go up as the season goes on. For a team that is perceived to be rebuilding, trading away an asset like Stroman may produce favorable returns in the form of young rising prospects.

But for the die-hard Blue Jays fans, savor and appreciate the great starts from Stroman. As Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo affirmed, his team can remain competitive if their starting pitching delivers top-notch performances.

“We have a chance every day with our starters, and Marcus was outstanding,” Montoyo said. “He did walk a couple of guys there and his pitch count was a little high but he took us to the seventh inning. … That’s all you can ask for a pitcher. He was very good.”

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