Stroman, Velázquez look to carry Classic momentum into season

March 22nd, 2023

SURPRISE, Ariz., -- Standing at his locker in the home clubhouse at Sloan Park on Tuesday afternoon before a 6-2 rain-shortened win over the Royals, fielded a number of hugs from his teammates as they welcomed their starter back from Miami.

After pitching for Team USA in his first World Baseball Classic in 2017, Stroman elected to play for Team Puerto Rico this year to honor his mom, Adlin.

“The passion and the energy truly is different when it comes to playing for your country and playing for your family, your mom, your dad,” Stroman said. “Putting that Puerto Rico across your chest. I can’t talk any more highly of the WBC. I wish it was every year, I’d play in it every single year if I could. I love it.”

The right-hander compiled a 3.00 ERA over two starts, giving up three runs on seven hits with one walk and four strikeouts across nine innings. Stroman got the nod vs. Team Nicaragua in Puerto Rico’s first game of the tournament, and again in the quarterfinal against Team Mexico

“I think it’s a great experience for everyone to get,” Stroman said, “even if they didn’t necessarily have success, it’s just being around the vibe, the environment. Kind of prepares you for October baseball and kind of is like, ‘Wow,’ you have that buzz when people are screaming and the energy is very loud. 

“It’s hard to kind of replicate, necessarily. I mean Wrigley is probably the best case to replicate in the league, as far as getting the vibe and the buzz each and every game. I don’t think many places do it like Wrigley, so I’m truly thankful and fortunate from that.”

Just two days earlier, another Cub rejoined the team in Mesa -- Stroman’s Puerto Rico teammate . The Cubs outfielder appeared in two games, recording one hit and scoring a run in his first Classic.

“The World Baseball Classic is different, you can feel it,” Velázquez said. “To have the name of your country across your chest is … it’s crazy. It was just amazing.”

If there was any concern about carrying the momentum over from the tournament to Spring Training, Velázquez proved otherwise after he hit a walk-off home run Sunday in his first game back to Cactus League play.

Team Puerto Rico was eliminated by Mexico on Friday, but the experience is one that Velázquez will hold onto forever.

“I would say, the game vs. [Team] Dominican [Republic],” Velázquez said of his favorite memory from the tournament. “It was different. I think it was the [best] game in the World Baseball Classic. There was a lot of energy in the clubhouse, a lot of positive things. We just got there as a family and played the game, playing hard, and I think that I’ll never forget that day.”

Now, Stroman and Velázquez turn their attention to Opening Day, with the Cubs set to host the Brewers on March 30 to kick off their 2023 season.

“I feel good, I’m very adaptable,” Stroman said. “I work very hard in the offseason, so I have a great regimen [and] routine here with our trainers and our staff. So I truly feel like I could pitch anywhere from four days to seven, eight. Like I’m really good with my body and adjusting.

“So I’m not worried about it slightly. Now it’s just a matter of kind of getting my next start in, working on some things in the bullpen. But like I said, I feel ready. Especially after going out there and competing with that adrenaline and that pressure. I feel like I’m ready to go.”

After unpacking his bags, Stroman threw a bullpen session on the back fields at Sloan Park on Tuesday.

“He was just on a really big stage, pitching in big games that mattered and had a lot of success in that,” manager David Ross said. “So he’s been around long enough where we trust his process and we’ll start to try and pair him with, make sure him and the catchers are on the same page and working through any of that communication stuff that we might need to lock in before the season starts. … He’s a worker, man, you don’t have to worry about him. He’ll be ready.”