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Stroman passes test with first Grapefruit start

Team believes one more spring outing will be enough for righty before regular season
MLB.com @gregorMLB

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Marcus Stroman insists he will be ready for the start of the season, but before that can become official the Blue Jays right-hander needs to pass a couple of tests. The first one took place Wednesday afternoon.

Stroman made his Grapefruit League season debut by surrendering a pair of runs (one earned) over 2 2/3 innings in a 7-7 tie with the Phillies at Dunedin Stadium. He allowed five hits and walked a batter while striking out one and throwing 32 of his 54 pitches for strikes.

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DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Marcus Stroman insists he will be ready for the start of the season, but before that can become official the Blue Jays right-hander needs to pass a couple of tests. The first one took place Wednesday afternoon.

Stroman made his Grapefruit League season debut by surrendering a pair of runs (one earned) over 2 2/3 innings in a 7-7 tie with the Phillies at Dunedin Stadium. He allowed five hits and walked a batter while striking out one and throwing 32 of his 54 pitches for strikes.

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The next test will take place Monday night in Montreal, where Stroman is scheduled for his final spring outing. He's expected to be in the 70-pitch range for that one, and if all goes well, then Stroman will be cleared to start Toronto's fourth game of the season on April 1 against the Yankees.

"I can't wait," said Stroman, who dealt with right shoulder inflammation earlier this spring. "I think Canadian fans are the best in the world. I love pitching in Toronto. I love pitching in Canada. We have an entire country that's behind our back each and every day and that's extremely special.

"I love our fans, I get out and see them in the offseason across the country. I can't wait to get out there in Montreal and then against the Yankees on Sunday. It's electric when I'm out there and I really feel the passion of the fans."

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Stroman's first outing against big leaguers wasn't exactly flawless. After shortstop Aledmys Diaz made an error to allow the first batter of the game to reach base, Stroman served up a 93-mph fastball to Rhys Hoskins that the Phillies left fielder deposited over the left-field wall for a no-doubt home run.

The homer accounted for the only runs Stroman allowed, but it wasn't the end of Philadelphia's hard contact. Nick Williams doubled later in the first, and the Phillies had two more baserunners in the second. The lengthy first two innings meant Stroman could not complete the three or four frames initially expected.

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The most important thing to pay attention to here is pitch count. Stroman threw 54 pitches and only has one more start to use as a springboard for his first appearance of the regular season. Stroman needs to be able to throw around 85 pitches in his first regular-season outing, and while the process seems a bit rushed, there's no reason to think he won't get there.

"I thought he looked good," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "I thought he finished good. He made some good pitches. He struggled with balls up in that first inning, but I thought he finished really strong."

The Blue Jays have already announced their starting rotation, but if something unexpected happens with Stroman over the next week, the ballclub does have right-hander Joe Biagini waiting in the wings. Biagini is scheduled to make another spring start in Thursday night's split-squad game against the Pirates and would be on schedule to start if Stroman is somehow unavailable against the Yankees.

Backup plans are required, but the Blue Jays don't believe they will be implemented in this case. It's about Stroman shaking off some of the early rust and building up enough endurance so he won't compromise the bullpen in his first start.

"Just a matter of getting my body right," Stroman said. "My arm felt great. Just another step to getting back out there on the mound in season."

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

Toronto Blue Jays, Marcus Stroman