DUNEDIN, Fla. – Marcus Stroman looks forward to feeling like he’s going to puke again.
He also can’t wait for all the tossing and turning he’ll do in bed the night before it arrives.
Six years in the big leagues, Stroman still gets nervous before he pitches. The butterflies start the night before and continue on through most of the next day.
It’s a “good feeling,” he says, and one he’ll embrace leading up to Thursday’s season opener against the Detroit Tigers at Rogers Centre.
“Oh yeah, man,” Stroman said when asked if he’ll have trouble sleeping Wednesday. “But it’s like it’s part of the routine. You love it. I embrace it now, you know what I mean? Trouble sleeping, wake up, you’re kind of antsy, get to the field, eat breakfast, you can’t eat, you’re sick to your stomach, and then you get out there and you feel great.
“It’s just a process, man. I’m used to it.”
When he toes the mound against the Tigers, a total of 206 days will have passed since his last real game start. It was against the Tampa Bay Rays on Labour Day, and did he ever labour. In 1.2 innings, Stroman gave up six hits and four runs, then took an early exit into the off-season so a blister could heal.
The problem is now gone, as are the shoulder issues that contributed to his worst big-league season. He has said he “feels great” as often as stating he’s “excited” to get going.
Whatever happens the rest of the way, Stroman has had a strong spring.
There was a lot to watch on adjacent diamonds at the Jays’ minor league complex on Friday.
Easing his way into the season, Clay Buchholz pitched 30 pitches over two innings. In the first, he made four outs – three Ks and a fly to right. In the second, he induced two grounders to second, allowed a single and then left after giving up a walk.
“He was great today,” said manager Ross Atkins, indicating Buchholz could be ready by early April. “Really encouraged. His feel, the pitch-ability, the impact in the clubhouse he’s been great.”
After throwing 85 pitches on Monday, Stroman tapered down to 40-45 over three innings. He gave up a run, on four hits and a walk, while striking out one and deftly picking off Tigers prospect Daz Cameron at second.
“I’m ready to go a full game on opening day,” he declared.
How many witnesses will be on hand for the 3:37 p.m. start is a serious question. There are still plenty of good seats available, as they say. Jays are hoping for good walk-up, just like they are for the rest of the weekend series with the Tigers.
In a home series with the Baltimore Orioles on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of the following week, it’s looking like foul balls will lie still for some time before they get picked up.
Asked what he would say to entice fans to the ball yard, Stroman replied: “I mean, let’s go. I can’t really be more excited. I can’t express any more the louder it is, I promise y’all the better I’ll pitch. That energy … you can try to mimic anything from ’15, ’16, the loudness of that crowd? I think we really feed off that as players. I think feeling that energy we had in ’15 and ’16 every single time we showed up to the park, it felt like we were just going to smash and win every game.”
Often, they did. The Jays finished a combined 40 games over .500 in the couple of seasons to which Stroman referred.
“You’d walk out there for batting practice and the stands would be packed sometimes,” he remembered. “I love my Canadians, I love Canada, and I’m excited for this year.”
Yet the potential is great for it to be another rough one – even if they weren’t going to see so much of the Red Sox and Yankees.
“I think it’s the best division in baseball,” said Stroman. “You have to go into it knowing we have to be locked in every pitch. I think we have that attitude. We’re going to take chances, we’re going to go out there and have fun. At the end of the day we have nothing to lose, and we’re going to play with that kind of confident, go-get mentality.”
Like the rest of the Jays, Stroman will be leaving Dunedin on Sunday. Like a select few, he will not be going to Montreal for a couple of final tuneup games against the Milwaukee Brewers. Instead, he’s headed to Toronto, to get settled in for the summer.
“I’ll get all my work in at the Rogers Centre,” he said. “And throw bullpen early next week, stay on top of my workouts.
“I’m pretty much right on track with the six-day routine, so I feel great, can’t wait to get out there.”
And for the return of the butterflies.
In Friday’s 4-0 win over the Orioles, Justin Smoak hit his fourth homer and went 3-for-3 to raise his Grapefruit League average to .394. “If he has a good year, we’re going to be good,” said manager Charlie Montoyo. “That’s a big sign for us, that he’s swinging the bat good. He’s my clean-up hitter – we’re going to score a lot of runs if he stays hot like that.” Batting leadoff for the second day in a row, Brandon Drury added his third dinger of the spring Jays split-squad action Saturday will see one group host the Canadian National Junior Team in the last game to be played at Dunedin Stadium, as we know it now. The other groups travels to Tampa to take on the Yankees.
WITH SPRING IN HIS STEP, SANCHEZ HAS HIGH HOPES
In his last start of the spring, Aaron Sanchez made a clear and definitive statement.
It was one he had made before but, coming off two injury riddled campaigns, maybe beared repeating.
“I knew the off-season work I put in was going to make sure I was ready,” Sanchez said Friday night. “I wasn’t coming into camp hoping, wishing and praying. I knew I was coming in ready to go.”
Against the Baltimore Orioles at Dunedin Stadium, the big righty was virtually untouchable. With 78 pitches over six innings, Sanchez gave up one hit, walked two and struck out three.
“Life on the fastball, good breaking ball,” Sanchez said of what he liked. “I didn’t get very much swings on my changup but the location was perfect, it was down. If that pitch gets up any higher, it gets crushed.
“They kind of laid off of it, pretty much the whole game, but I was pleased with where I was in terms of location.
“What I didn’t like, my first-pitch strikes were average to below average. To have the day I did falling behind, that means my 1-1 counts were a lot better than my 0-0 counts. Little work in progress, but it’ll be alright.”
Sanchez will have a light schedule until he makes his first start, slated to be next Saturday against the Tigers.
“We’ll hash that out,” he said of the exact plan. “Today the idea was to have how many innings, and how many pitches I threw. Then determine what I as doing on the flip side. But I’d imagine just an extended bullpen or something, get some hitters in there or something, if I want. But I don’t see myself throwing in a game.”
In 17.2 innings this spring training, Sanchez posted a 1.53 ERA.
“For me, it’s everything I wanted to do and to where I wanted to be at,” he said. “I’ll always be confident when I’m healthy. When I’m not healthy it’s a different story.
“But good 2019 spring training, for sure, especially after all that’s gone on the last few years. I’ve very pleased.”
Sanchez is also happy with the way he and Danny Jansen are meshing. The two had only worked together in previous springs.
“Now that he’s caught two or three times in spring training, he’s got an idea of what I like to do,” said Sanchez. “He knows what I can and can’t do when I’m out there.
“Everybody we’ve got here is pretty good, in terms of being a backstop. Even if it wasn’t him, I still think we’d be in good shape. But the progress he’s made even from last year to this year is leaps and bounds.
“I’m excited to get this show on the road. It’s going to be a fun year.”
NOT ALL DOOM AND GLOOM SURROUNDING INJURED PITCHERS
It’s now quite possible two out of three ain’t bad in the Blue Jays bullpen.
After a Thursday that brought the worrisome news veteran right handers John Axford, Ryan Tepera and Bud Norris could be lost to injury, the outlook was much brighter a day later.
Axford is still being shutd own for four weeks because of a stress reaction to the olecranon bone in his right elbow, but Norris bounced back strong 24 hours after feeling discomfort in his pitching wing.
Meanwhile, the Jays were cautiously optimistic Tepera will get positive feedback from his appointment Saturday with Dr. David Altchek, an orthopaedic surgeon who specializes in ulnar collateral ligament injuries and has performed a number of Tommy John surgeries.
“It looks like it might be good news,” offered manager Charlie Montoyo. “We’ll see how he does.”
Said GM Ross Atkins: “Ryan has been very reliable, very dependable, very effective for us. Extremely athletic. We’re optimistic that reliability and dependability and athleticism is going to end up being what we see after this visit.”
Tepera had both pain and inflammation in his right elbow.
“This is relatively common, to feel something in the elbow region for a relief pitcher,” said Atkins. “Never good news, but we’ll have more information (Saturday) and we’re relatively optimistic that it’s not going to be something long-term.”
All indications are Norris will not “opt-out” of his deal with the Jays and start the season as the set-up man for closer Ken Giles.
“Physically, it’s really just because it only would have been his third out of spring training,” Atkins said of the problems Norris experienced warming up. “It’s just natural wear and tear. It happens, it’s pretty routine, but because of timing, where we are in camp and when he reported, it was magnified a bit. But fully expect him to be full go and ready to go.”
Atkins also had a positive report on David Phelps, another veteran right-handed reliever who missed the entire 2018 season after Tommy John surgery.
“He has been great,” said Atkins, revealing that Phelps had thrown live batting practice. “He’s actually ahead of schedule. I think the command has been awesome. We’ll take it day by day and week by week with him. It could be something that speeds up. It’s also something that we need to make sure we’re being cautious. He certainly hasn’t had any setbacks.”