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Stroman turns heads with gem in return home

TORONTO -- The Red Sox were in Marcus Stroman's kitchen on Friday night, and sinkers were the only item on the menu. Well, almost. The right-hander held Boston to one earned run over seven innings as he dished out a steady diet of two-seam fastballs -- 49 of his 96 pitches -- to help the Blue Jays record a 6-1 victory in the series opener at Rogers Centre.

Stroman discovered the sinker late last season and it has become his go-to offering in a six-pitch repertoire that also includes a four-seam fastball, a cutter, a changeup, a slider and a curveball.

"It's my new favourite pitch, ever since the All-Star break last year," said Stroman, who recorded 11 ground-ball outs. "It allows me to go deep into games and it allows me to keep the ball on the ground. It's a great pitch; even though strikeouts are down, I'm getting weak contact all game."

The outing was Stroman's second of the season since he made a miraculous comeback to the Blue Jays' starting rotation after tearing his ACL in Spring Training, and his first start at Rogers Centre since Sept. 26 of last season. The 24-year-old made it a homecoming to remember as he recorded the quality start, allowing six hits and one walk with three strikeouts while improving his career record against the Red Sox to 4-0. He said he had chills when he ran out to the mound for the first time at home in almost a year.

Video: [email protected]: Gibbons on Stroman's start, Tulowitzki

"It's crazy, the love that Toronto has for me. It's incredible," Stroman said.

Any concerns that Stroman returned to the Majors prematurely are now all but quashed. As the Blue Jays move closer and closer to securing their first playoff berth in the last 22 years, Stroman's readiness to step in and claim a spot in the postseason rotation -- should the Blue Jays make it -- is becoming increasingly likely.

Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said the more starts Stroman gets, the better he'll pitch.

"Stro's different. I don't think there's many guys that could pull that off," Gibbons said. "Most guys probably would've been done for the year, but he was motivated to come back. He's a great competitor and he's got great stuff.

With David Price, R.A. Dickey and now Stroman the leading candidates to make up the front three playoff starters, Gibbons will have to decide who between Mark Buehrle and Marco Estrada will fill the fourth spot. It's a good problem to have, but a choice Gibbons will be forced to make should the Blue Jays clinch the American League East, where they own a 4 1/2-game lead over the Yankees.

Jamie Ross is an associate reporter for
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