TORONTO – For all the remarkable moments the Blue Jays have had the last two months, nothing can compare to what we’re seeing from Marcus Stroman. Suddenly, a team that went through 100 games pretty much without an ace has two in its rotation in Stroman and David Price. And recent October history shows how important that can be.
Stroman’s season was over, remember, when he tore his ACL in spring training during a freak March accident while fielding a bunt on a back field at the spring complex in Dunedin, Fla. That’s what everyone was told and believed, except the 24-year-old. The Long Island native set out on a course of incredible rehab, while wrapping up his degree at Duke, and insisted he would be back in September.
It was hard to believe. This is the major leagues. It’s ridiculous to think that a 24-year-old with less than a full season under his belt can miss almost all of Year Two with a major knee issue and then return like he has.
Stroman has a 1.89 ERA in his three starts and is showcasing a wicked five-pitch repertoire. Price has nicknamed him “Tylenol” – as in the pitches are so unhittable they look like pills. Stroman was so fired up Wednesday that when he would come into the dugout between innings of the Jays’ win against the Yankees here, Price was donning a batting glove to receive his high-fives.
“This young champion right here fires me up!!!” Price wrote on an Instagram post that included a picture of him and Stroman. “Always fun to play with guys like Tylenol.”
When I asked Price the genesis of the glove here Friday, he said he was simply taking preventive measures.
“I thought Stroman was about to put me on the DL when he came off the mound,” Price said, laughing. “I learned that from his first start here in Toronto. He doesn’t go easy on my right hand so I had put the batting glove on the hand to minimize the impact he puts on my hand, forearm and biceps. He’s just full of energy and it’s fun to see.”
Catcher Russell Martin marveled at Stroman, all the while noting he was still getting used to catching him because the experience is so new.
“He’s definitely an ace,” Martin said after Wednesday’s win. “There’s no question about it. He’s got ace stuff. He can overpower people – with the fastball, the breaking ball, the change-up. He doesn’t have one pitch that’s good to hit. He’s going to be good for a long time.”
We learned all about what a bundle of energy Stroman was last year in Buffalo, when he quickly showed his stuff and got his first promotion to Toronto. Stroman considers Price one of his pitching idols and was thrilled when the Blue Jays made the deadline deal with Detroit.
“Having that guy waiting at the top step after every inning is definitely motivating in itself,” Stroman said. “He’s the man, and I’m just lucky to be on his team.”
While Price could be on the road to an unlikely Cy Young award, Stroman could get there some day too. For now, he’s simply going to leap and hop – and throw pills – on the way to the postseason. The Blue Jays could slot Price-Stroman in games 1-2 of the postseason, or use R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball at home in Game Two and hold Stroman to try to dominate on the road in Game Three. He won’t get rattled.
“My emotions are something I feel like I’m able to direct in a positive way, in a positive energy,” Stroman said. “I really use it in the moment and kind of bear down and pitch better.”
“These are the three biggest games he’s ever thrown in his career,” Price said. “No game he’s ever pitched in has been to the magnitude he’s made these three starts. The first one off the injury was in Yankee Stadium, the closest team to where he grew up. For him to be able to handle this as he has his first few starts, being the biggest of his career, it’s great to see.”
Hague enjoying Jays’ ride
International League MVP Matt Hague spent the summer in Buffalo putting together one of the best seasons in the Bisons’ modern era. He earned the September call-up he received and is now thrust into having a great seat for the Blue Jays’ pennant drive.
Hague isn’t going to see much playing time until the Blue Jays clinch the AL East and that’s fine with him. He’s just staying ready when called. In seven plate appearances in Toronto entering Saturday, he’s 2 for 5 with two walks.
“So far it’s just been incredible to be around all the guys who’ve had success throughout their careers,” Hague said. “I’ve been getting chills about 20 times a game with all the fans screaming.”
Hague had a big moment in last Saturday’s loss to Boston, coming to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the ninth right after Jose Bautista had cracked a two-run homer to cut the Blue Jays’ deficit to 7-6. On the second pitch he saw, Hague cracked a drive to deep center that looked like it had a chance for a tying home run before it careened into the wall for a double. It was his first extra-base hit in the big leagues since doubling for Pittsburgh in 2012.
“My nerves were getting up there a little and I told myself to calm down and compete in the box,” Hague said. “You’re trying to put the barrel on it, look at the middle of the field. I was aggressive and it just worked out. I know I hit it good – and I almost missed first base watching the ball.
“Right now I just feel extremely grateful they put faith in me to give me an at-bat like that. It’s still the same game of baseball even though it’s faster. You harness the emotion of playing backyard baseball.”
Hague had 33 doubles as part of his 177-hit resume that produced a .338 average in Buffalo. He was Buffalo’s first MVP since Jhonny Peralta in 2004 and his .338 batting average gave him the Herd’s third batting title of the modern era. He finished two points shy of Dave Clark’s .340 franchise-record mark set in 1987.
Hague was up for a couple of days in August but then got the final call from manager Gary Allenson following Buffalo’s Sept. 7 finale in Pawtucket.
“There was nothing really set in stone,” he said. “Gary dragged me and Steve Delabar in the office and said, ‘Get your stuff ready. You’re going to Boston.’ I got the chills again.”
Hague, a native of Washington State, had never been to either Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium in his life until he was in a major-league uniform.
“Especially going to those two places, there’s so much history. I got a chance to go to Monument Park in center field at Yankee Stadium and that was surreal. Being in parks like that, it’s something you dream of doing when you’re little. Being there is a dream and then you step on the field and you’re like, ‘Oh man, I’ve got to be ready to play in this game.’ It’s almost an out-of-body experience but you have to harness yourself back to playing baseball.”
What’s up for Hague next year? You’d think the Blue Jays would be interested in having him back, although he’d probably be looking for an organization that needs help at corner infield slots. And he certainly can make some money in a place like Japan or Korea.
“I’m trying to stay in the moment and not thinking that far ahead,” Hague said. “It’s been great and I accomplished things I wanted to do. But now I’m in the mindset to help a team win a ring. You’re not thinking about your own career. You don’t want to take away from what we’re trying to do.
“I’m grateful to be here right now. My job is to be ready when my name is called and not be surprised when it does get called. Be prepared no matter the situation.”
Joe Maddon is up to his old tricks again which, of course, include winning.
The Cubs manager likes to keep it loose. He brought a magician into the clubhouse earlier this season and last week had animals on hand from a local zoo. Anthony Rizzo tweeted selfies with a cheetah, and a pink flamingo was brought into Maddon’s pregame news conference. The manager said its name was Warren. Seriously.
“My goal in life was to eventually own a bar named ‘The Pink Flamingo,’ ” Maddon said as reporters laughed. “If that ever happens, then I’ve made it. And if that ever does happen, Warren’s going to be at the opening night.”
Clearly Maddon should be making a journey to Allen Street in the 716. Doubt he’ll be able to buy the place but he should at least come for a classic steak sandwich, right?