CHICAGO -- Tucker Barnhart examined the black bag sitting on his chair on Tuesday afternoon, peeked inside and then set it on a shelf in his locker. The Cubs catcher smiled and knew immediately who had delivered the gifts.
“That’s awesome,” Barnhart said. “I’ll open that up later.”
Stroman was the story. He was the one who took the hill and sliced through Tampa Bay’s lineup, flirting with a no-hitter into the seventh and finishing with eight strikeouts and one walk. It was a brilliant performance, but one that had multiple parties playing a role in the planning, execution and outcome.
“I’m appreciative,” Stroman said. “I'm now being more conscious and just trying to really enjoy the moments. In the past, I feel like I would just forget about it and already worry about the next start. I'm really trying to appreciate the vibe here.”
And that includes paying it forward for his catchers.
Stroman has 10 quality starts this season and headed into Thursday’s team off-day ranked fourth in ground-ball rate (59.5%), fifth in innings (73) and seventh in ERA (2.59) among qualified MLB pitchers. The veteran’s last three starts included a 1.17 ERA in 23 innings.
Stroman has been paired six times apiece with Gomes and Barnhart, with the latter guiding the righty to a 1.54 ERA in 41 innings. Stroman leaves the game-planning to his catchers, putting full trust in their ability to react and adjust in-game to how lineups are attacking the pitcher.
“I'm very different,” Stroman said. “I don't look at any analytical information and I don't even look at lineups. I essentially don't know who I'm facing until I go into the game. Catchers now are so in tune, especially Yan and Tucker.
“These guys not only are reading swings, swing to swing, but they're also doing their reports and know, one through nine, how they're going to attack. I'm someone who, I'm much better when I can just be fluid and in motion and not have to overthink.”
Something that has helped Stroman lately has been the addition of more detail in the PitchCom messaging. Instead of just hearing only a pitch name, Stroman is receiving a pitch, plus a secondary instruction. He gave the example of a “chase slider,” rather than just hearing “slider.”
“That will let me know to expand. It’s subtle, but it reminds you,” Stroman said. “It’s just certain cues, man. Tuck and Yan are great. Like I’ve said, I don't shake. I threw 105 pitches and I didn't shake one time in that entire game.
“I have a lot of confidence in my catchers. And they allow me to just go out there, be an athlete, stay calm and just execute. I don't have to think about anything else.”
Except perhaps what items to toss in the next gift bags.