Stroman does 'Wander Flip' -- then Wander gets lone hit off him

Cubs' Opening Day starter pitches second shutout of career to snap club's four-game skid

May 29th, 2023

CHICAGO --  stood atop the mound and clapped his glove. The Cubs’ starter was showing appreciation for the cheers he received after finally flinching and relinquishing a hit in the seventh inning on Monday afternoon.

Then, Stroman finished the job.

In a 1-0 win over the Rays at Wrigley Field, Stroman flirted with a no-hitter in a one-hit shutout, helping the Cubs turn the page on their four-game losing streak. The right-hander was efficient as he carved up Tampa Bay’s intimidating lineup with few blemishes until Wander Franco’s leadoff single in the seventh.

“This was special,” Stroman said. “This was an amazing moment for me. I’m truly just grateful.”

Cubs fans are, too.

The stressors have been piling up for a Chicago squad that is trying to find the rhythm and potential it displayed during the first half of April. The North Siders were just swept in three games by the Reds to drop to last in the National League Central, with the Rays -- owners of baseball’s best record and one of its top offenses -- coming to town.

Even before Monday’s game, Cubs manager David Ross called it “the perfect day for Stro” in light of the recent setbacks. If there was one pitcher capable of pushing all the noise and pressure to the side and helping the Cubs take a collective breath, it would be Ross’ Opening Day starter.

“There's a lot piling up there,” Ross said. “What big-time players do is what he did today.”

The Rays headed into the day leading the Major Leagues in average (.273), hits (510), homers (101) and runs (335). Tampa Bay was also pacing baseball with an .847 OPS. For perspective, the second-best club, Atlanta, checked in with a .798 OPS. The Rays’ 139 wRC+ meant they were hitting 39 percent above MLB average as a team.

Enter Stroman.

The Cubs righty breezed through nine innings on 105 pitches (72 for strikes), leaning heavily on his sinker (49 pitches) and slurve (34) while featuring six pitches overall. Stroman generated a career-high 20 swinging strikes and created 13 outs via ground balls. He ended with eight strikeouts and one walk.

With that performance, Stroman picked up his MLB-best 10th quality start of the season and shaved his ERA to 2.59.

“We were very prepared and aware of what he was going to do,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “But sometimes, all that awareness, it doesn’t matter if the pitcher’s executing like he did today.”

Stroman also did his part in the field in the second inning, when Taylor Walls hit a comebacker. Stroman made a quick stab at the ball, checked his glove and flipped it to his hand, then tossed it to first baseman Matt Mervis for the out.

The play was reminiscent of the flip throw Franco -- naturally, the only player with a hit off Stroman in this one -- executed to much fanfare in early May.

“He’s a Gold Glover for a reason,” Cubs catcher Tucker Barnhart said. “He makes so many hard plays look easy. The comebacker there off of Walls today was just another example.”

Stroman notched his first complete game since April 23, 2017, and his first shutout since Sept. 8, 2014, as a rookie for the Blue Jays against the Cubs. It was Chicago’s first one-hit shutout since Jake Arrieta did it against the Reds on Sept. 16, 2014. The last Cubs pitcher to allow no more than one hit over nine innings was Alec Mills in his no-hitter on Sept. 13, 2020, in Milwaukee.

The Cubs’ lone run arrived in the fourth inning, when Mike Tauchman came through with a sacrifice fly to right off Taj Bradley, scoring Seiya Suzuki. For the rest of the afternoon, Tauchman had a great view of Stroman’s work from center field.

“He didn't really miss to the big part of the plate,” Tauchman said. “You look at their offensive production they've had this year, it's even that much more impressive for him to come in and just continually get ahead of hitters, and then expand and get a good lineup to take the kind of swings that he wants them to take.”

Following Franco’s flared hit to left in the seventh and Stroman’s nod to the crowd, the righty issued a walk to Brandon Lowe as he worked to lock his mechanics back in. He then escaped with a flyout to right off the bat of Randy Arozarena and a double-play grounder from Josh Lowe.

Ross never got anyone up in the bullpen from that point on.

“That was his game,” said the manager.

After the win, Ross let out an expletive as he took his seat in the interview room, smiled and added, “That was nice. We needed that.”

Stroman knew it, too.

“We just needed a stop and to kind of get things rolling,” said the pitcher. “I think it should hopefully give us a little momentum, knowing that we can play with anyone, knowing that we're capable of beating any team in the league.”