Stroman ready to go if Blue Jays force Game 7
Young right-hander embraces opportunity after coming back from injury
KANSAS CITY -- There were lofty expectations for Marcus Stroman before this season began. Then, Toronto was not sure what to expect, following an unanticipated left knee injury that took the right-hander out of the equation for the first five months of the season.
Improbably, Stroman not only returned to the mound for the Blue Jays by September, but he now keeps finding himself in critical situations in October. If everything goes according to plan, he will be out there on the hill again for Toronto on Saturday for Game 7 of the American League Championship Series (7:30 p.m. ET air time on FOX Sports 1 and Sportsnet, first pitch slated for 8 p.m.).
As Stroman sat at the podium at Kauffman Stadium before Game 6 on Friday, he smiled while taking a moment to reflect on how far away this moment seemed only a few months ago.
"I kept good faith the entire time," Stroman said. "But it's hard to actually sit there and actually believe you'd be sitting in this position this day. This still feels like a dream to me now, still feels like I haven't woke up this entire summer."
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said it would be fitting to have Stroman on the mound for Game 7 with a shot at Toronto's first World Series berth since 1993.
"Yeah, it would," Gibbons said. "He's really been that guy that, to this point, he's always turned up at the right time. So that would be a good thing if he's out there [on Saturday]."
Stroman was on the mound on Sept. 30, when the Blue Jays clinched their first AL East title in 22 years. The 24-year-old righty was on the hill again for Game 5 of the AL Division Series, doing his part to help Toronto erase Texas' 2-0 series lead en route to the ALCS meeting with the Royals. Stroman started in Game 3, helping the Blue Jays to their first win in this round.
"It's definitely exciting," Stroman said. "Game 7 of the ALCS. There's no place I'd rather be. I'm ready."
A year ago, Stroman put himself on the map as a starter for the Blue Jays, going 11-6 with a 3.65 ERA in 26 games (20 starts). With the development of a trustworthy sinker, the righty evolved from a strikeout-based pitcher to one focused on inducing weak contact and lasting deeper into outings. Given his transformation, big things were anticipated this season for the young pitcher.
During Spring Training, Stroman tore his left ACL, creating a large hole in Toronto's rotation. The Blue Jays then hovered around the break-even mark for the first three-plus months, leading up to the series of blockbuster trades that brought David Price and Troy Tulowitzki into the fold. Toronto took flight after the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline and Stroman rejoined the mix on Sept. 12.
Stroman then went 4-0 with a 1.67 ERA in four starts down the stretch.
As the stage has increased in size this month, Stroman has fed off the energy.
"The crowds are extremely intense," he said. "Whether it's love or hate, just being able to channel all that energy into pitching, it's fun. I love it. I love being in little ballparks and having huge crowds and everyone being against you. It kind of brings out the best, and makes you kind of get up and be your best."
Stroman was not at his sharpest in Game 3 of the ALCS on Monday, when he was charged with four runs on 11 hits in 6 1/3 innings. Kansas City made consistent contact -- the pitcher only generated three swings and misses -- and only had one strikeout.
Stroman has studied video of that outing and hopes to apply some adjustments in Game 7.
"I have the game plan I'll go about in my head," Stroman said. "I'm excited to get back out there and put our team in a position to win. I can't wait to be out there."