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Stroman ready to take on role of Jays’ staff ace

David Price is gone, to Boston of all places. But Toronto Blue Jays fans who gnash their teeth over that too much should stop.

That’s because The Stro Show is going to be at the top of the charts come April. Just like most everyone thought it would be last season.

Marcus Stroman, that pepperpot of energy we saw whizz through Buffalo in 2014, is a big-league ace. He’s the No. 1 guy on a team that has World Series aspirations. And is he withering at the thought of being overwhelmed by it all? Are you kidding?

“I’m ready for it,” Stroman said Wednesday prior to the Bisons’ annual Winter Hot Stove Luncheon in the Adam’s Mark. “As far as my preparation, it doesn’t change how I work. My work ethic is geared toward that ace status. I’m excited to accept that role. I feel I’m ready.”

No one can argue after what we saw last fall. Stroman, remember, tore his ACL in a freak fielding accident during spring training after posting 11 wins in his 2014 rookie season. Tough break, bud. See you in 2016 was what everyone thought.

Except Stroman. He worked with freak-show intensity on his rehab at Duke University, all the while completing his degree requirements. He was back by September, going 4-0 the rest of the way and even getting the start in the epic Game Five showdown with Texas in the American League Division Series.

“I don’t think people understand what he did,” said pitcher Aaron Sanchez, Stroman’s close friend and workout partner who was the luncheon’s other keynote guest. “That injury is 9-12 months and he came back in 4½. … That shows you what kind of character he has and what type of athlete he is. That’s insane to come back in 4½ months and do it on probably the biggest stage of his career.”

If you chart the Jays’ rotation today, there’s Stroman and 2015 surprise 13-game winner Marco Estrada. There’s 41-year-old knuckleballer R.A. Dickey and free agent returnee J.A. Happ. It looks more and more, especially now that they’ve traded for former Washington closer Drew Storen, that the Blue Jays can transition Sanchez back from eighth-inning specialist to his old role as a starter.

The Jays’ lineup is a beast. The back end of the bullpen looks strong. It’s just the rotation that might leave you with questions. But on the whole, if you’re picking the AL East today, most folks are still picking Toronto.

“We are an unbelievably confident, hungry, motivated group of guys and we don’t concern ourselves at all with outside noise,” Stroman said. “We know what we’re capable of and we’re ready to go.”

There’s plenty of noise across Canada. The din at the Rogers Centre during those dramatic days and nights of October was something not heard since the days of Joe Carter in 1993. The buildup to this season is completely different for a new generation of fans.

This is a unique franchise in sports. The Blue Jays don’t represent their city or region. They span an entire country. Their Winter Tour kicked off this week all the way out in New Brunswick. In the past they’ve gone to Manitoba and Alberta. Their fans in British Columbia are known to take over games in Seattle’s Safeco Field.

Stroman and Sanchez returned across the border after their visit here and were slated to join teammates Kevin Pillar, Dalton Pompey and Ryan Goins for an autograph session Wednesday night at the Upper Canada Mall in Newmarket, the Toronto suburb that produced Connor McDavid.

Twitter was abuzz with chatter about it – because the crowd was so massive the line of fans waiting for signatures was cut off 4½ hours ahead of time.

“We realize how special it is and we see that on Winter Tour when you go to the West Coast like we did last year to Calgary, Banff, Vancouver,” Stroman said. “You see the love we have across the country and you put in perspective you have an entire country rooting for you. It’s just not a city. it’s awesome.”

Stroman’s light-the-room personality plays well in a big city like Toronto. He’s done a rap video with Mike Stud, a former baseball teammate at Duke. He’s tight with the folks at New Era Cap, smiled broadly and applauded when they were recognized from the podium as being in attendance for Tuesday’s luncheon that saw more than 300 pack the Adam’s Mark grand ballroom.

And just Tuesday, Stroman signed a sponsorship deal with BioSteel Sports Nutrition. He joins a roster that includes McDavid and Tyler Seguin from the NHL and Toronto-born Andrew Wiggins of the Minnesota Timberwolves, a former No. 1 overall pick and Rookie of the Year in the NBA.

“I’m a very social person,” Stroman said. “I just like bopping around.”

It was here in Buffalo, on April 29, 2014, that Stroman had a no-hitter against Louisville for six innings. He had 10 strikeouts and seemed well on his way to matching Bartolo Colon’s 1997 gem as the only no-nos in the ballpark’s history. He never got the chance. He was on a pitch limit of 80 and history no longer changes that in the minor leagues.

“I’m not a fan of pitch counts but I understood the whole process,” he said. “It was early and I couldn’t throw too many pitches but that was the start that kind of propelled me into the big leagues. I’m thankful for it.”

Less than two years later, The Stro Show is more than just a former No. 1 pick working his way up the prospect ranks. He’s the golden arm to lead a team to where it hasn’t gone since 1993 and to where it fell two wins shy in October.

He’s only got the hopes of an entire country riding on him. No pressure really. And for this effervescent 24-year-old, it really is no problem.

“To be honest with you, my whole life the last couple years has felt like a dream. I feel like I’m still living it,” he said. “Rarely do I sit down and actually say, “Aw, that was crazy.’ I just focus on the now and do everything I can to put myself in position to produce and dominate next year.

“I’m sure when I do sit down and look back, I’ll realize how crazy and hectic the process was. But I’m at the point now where I’m trying to put 2015 – which was unreal – in the past and just focus on this year.”