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With MLB experience, Stroman looks ahead

Called up by Toronto as reliever, top prospect to resume starting in Minors

ARLINGTON -- Marcus Stroman's first stint in the Major Leagues lasted just two weeks, but the Blue Jays haven't seen the last of their hard-throwing right-hander.

Stroman was optioned to Triple-A Buffalo following Sunday's 6-2 loss to the Rangers, but his future remains bright. The first go-around was far from perfect, but the demotion has more to do with laying the groundwork for the future than it does his struggles at the big league level.

The Blue Jays sent Stroman to the Minor Leagues to resume his career as a starting pitcher. That's the role Toronto has always envisioned for the promising product of Duke University, and one that Stroman clearly prefers.

"I want to start. I missed it," said Stroman, who made five appearances out of the bullpen for the Blue Jays. "I'm excited to get back into starting -- obviously not excited to be sent down -- but I definitely want to start.

"Hopefully I'll be able to use all five pitches, and it will be a lot easier than trying to throw five pitches in the bullpen. Just take it in stride, and hopefully be back here soon."

The timing of Stroman's initial promotion on May 4 was curious. The original line of thinking was that he would remain in the Minor Leagues until a spot opened up in Toronto's rotation. The Blue Jays had a pair of starters in J.A. Happ and Dustin McGowan whose jobs weren't exactly secure, which created the possibility of a future role for Stroman.

When Stroman joined Toronto in Philadelphia, though, he arrived just in time to see McGowan toss seven strong innings vs the Phillies. The next day, Happ followed up with five scoreless frames in another winning effort. That guaranteed each pitcher at least one more start and put Stroman's status in limbo.

While the 23-year-old Stroman waited for an opportunity, he began to get accustomed to pitching out of the bullpen. Stroman made a handful of appearances, but the longer he went since his most recent start, the less chance he had of taking over a starting job. By the time McGowan was removed from the rotation this past Thursday, it had been 17 days since Stroman's last start.

The lack of continuity meant Stroman was essentially eliminated from consideration for a starting role. He would have needed time to get stretched out again, and that's something the Blue Jays weren't prepared to do in the Majors as they continue to search for ways to get more innings out of their starting five.

The process is about to start all over again, as Stroman now heads back to the Minors, where he'll start for Triple-A Buffalo on Tuesday. He'll likely need at least a couple of starts before he re-enters the mix for a starting job, if or when one opens up.

"I had no idea," Stroman said when asked if he was considered for the fifth spot. "I'm just kind of going back down to start. I'm sure my pitch count isn't going to be too high, so we'll see how that goes. But you probably know just as much as I do when it comes to that. I'll go back down there, and hopefully get right back to where I was in Buffalo and kind of just run with it."

Getting back to where he was before won't necessarily be an easy task. Stroman was on a roll at the time of his promotion, as he had allowed a combined five earned runs over five starts. The highlight came during his final outing, when he didn't allow a hit over six innings before he was pulled because Toronto was keeping a close eye on his pitch count.

The goal would appear to be for Stroman to gradually get his pitch count back up again. While doing so, he'll be able to work on his changeup, a pitch essential for his success as a starter, but relatively ignored in the bullpen.

The big question is whether Stroman's brief stint in the Majors did more harm than good. Will the experience gained help him succeed in the rotation when the next callup happens, or was his development needlessly interrupted? When Stroman was asked if he would have preferred to stay in the Minors until a starting job opened up, there was a long pause before he answered.

"It's hard to say, it's hard to say," Stroman said. "Obviously, whatever opportunity you get to contribute at the big league level, you want to jump on it and go. But I've been groomed as a starter for the past year and a half, so it's hard saying otherwise. It's tough, but you take it in stride and see what happens."

Stroman's promotion likely will be the subject of at least some debate. One unquestioned positive from his two-week stint is that Stroman now knows exactly what to expect at the big league level.

Stroman got his first win under his belt by tossing 1 1/3 scoreless innings vs the Phillies on May 6. He also got the first bad appearance out of the way against the Angels, when he allowed four runs on six hits over 1 2/3 innings.

The native of Medford, N.Y., can be dominant when he locates the ball down in the zone. When his pitches flatten out, Stroman can get hit hard.

"I thought he did a nice job," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "First go-around, there were a couple of outings where he was really good, and a couple of outings where he struggled and gave up some hits.

"But he's like anybody else: You feel your way around, get your feet wet and when it comes down to it, you have to make pitches, quality pitches. When you make mistakes, you leave balls up in the zone, hang breaking balls, at this level they don't miss them."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB.

Toronto Blue Jays, Marcus Stroman