Stroman injury Jays’ biggest curve yet
Last Saturday, Marcus Stroman was reflecting upon his good fortune. After sitting down with Aaron Sanchez, his devoted friend and teammate, for a video interview, the bubbly pitcher sounded like a young man who wakes up every day with a heart full of gratitude.
“When you put baseball in perspective,” he said, “I’m playing a game, you know what I mean, I’m playing a game that I love. And it’s my job. And there’s no stress.” Today, there is stress. Stress for Stroman, the Toronto Blue Jays pitcher with the megawatt smile and sky-high ceiling, who tore a ligament in his left knee on a spring-training practice field Tuesday and is out for the entire 2015 season.
Stress for Stroman’s teammates, from prospects to veterans, who delight in his hijinks and the genuine joy he spreads through the clubhouse and who respect him for the work ethic he applies to maximize his extraordinary talent.
And, of course, stress for the front office as well. Seemingly improved after several key off-season moves, the Jays entered spring training with high hopes a postseason berth might finally materialize after 21 years of inadequacy. True or not, conventional wisdom says general manager Alex Anthopoulos and manager John Gibbons may be gone if the team fails to break that spell.
Stroman’s absence not only leaves a huge gap in the starting rotation, but creates tremors throughout the entire pitching staff, with implications for the bullpen makeup and the competition for the closer’s job.
It creates opportunities as well. Whether the Jays have worthy candidates is a big question. There were no questions about Stroman, except the one that hovers over every player: can he avoid injury?
In that interview last Saturday, he kept coming back to his luck — the blessed fluke of genetics that enabled a 5-foot-8 pitcher to reach the big leagues, where stardom presumably still awaits, and the fortune of finding a friend like Sanchez, whom he considers a brother, and his ability to appreciate all of it.
“There’s people out there struggling for everyday life,” Stroman said. “They struggle, they’re battling things that you can never imagine. And it makes things that we complain about … seem ridiculous, to see what some people have to go through just to be able to live everyday life. That’s why I put everything in perspective. I think about life like that.”
He will need a lot of that perspective in the months to come.
“Beyond devastated,” he wrote on Twitter. “Not being able to compete with my brothers each and every day is extremely disappointing. Still can’t believe it.”
Like every other team, the Jays hold defensive drills each morning before their home exhibition games. On Tuesday, the pitchers took part in routine infield drills. Stroman charged a bunt. Third baseman Josh Donaldson called him off. As Stroman tried to come to a stop, his knee buckled and he fell in obvious pain.
Anthopoulos was not watching, but the news came quickly. Stroman tore his anterior cruciate ligament and will need surgery.
“As soon as he kind of crumpled down to the ground and was in pain, they said it just went completely silent,” Anthopoulos said in a radio interview. “I think everyone was just in shock.”
Doctors told Anthopoulos Stroman will make a full recovery and will be ready to pitch next season. But he will be sorely missed in more ways than one.
“He’s a great guy in the clubhouse, high energy, very competitive,” the GM told The Fan 590 in Toronto. “What you see on TV, what you see in interviews is exactly who he is. He’s as sincere as they come, which you see on Twitter and so on.”
Pitcher Daniel Norris told a reporter Stroman’s injury transcends the sport that happens to be their job.
“Can’t say I’ve met someone that radiates more positive energy than (Stroman) — praying for you brother,” Norris later wrote on Twitter.
Entering camp, one rotation spot was available behind R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Drew Hutchison and Stroman. Now there are two. Sanchez and Norris will continue to contend along with bullpen candidate Marco Estrada.
Sanchez excelled as a rookie reliever in the late innings over the second half of 2014, but he wants to start and eventually that’s what the Jays want, too. Many observers felt he might better serve the team in the closer’s role, but now with Stroman gone that scenario seems unlikely.
Brett Cecil, expected back soon from a minor shoulder ailment, wants to close and, assuming he’s healthy, would step into the front-runner’s role for that job.
And suddenly, 20-year-old Miguel Castro morphs from an intriguing prospect to a legitimate bullpen candidate. Castro has not pitched above Class A, but so far he has taken full advantage of his invitation to big-league camp, impressing observers with his high-90s fastball, command and pitching smarts, to say nothing of his 6-foot-5, 190-pound physique.