[Ed. Note: Big thanks to Chad Hillman who was in Lansing for Marcus Stroman’s rehab start. Here are his thoughts on the young righty.]
I have a confession to make. When I would listen to Marcus Stroman talk about returning this season after tearing his ACL in spring training, I laughed. Never in a million years would I have guessed it was possible. After Wednesday night however it is not only possible or probable, it a certainty.
Stroman made his highly anticipated rehab start in Lansing and was held to a strict 70 pitch limit. What he did with those 70 pitches, was nothing short of magical as he allowed no runs or hits through 4.2 IP. In the 69 pitches that he threw, 44 of them were for strikes which fed into 7 strikeouts, four of which were of the swing and miss variety. In his brief stint, he allowed two base runners. One by error, the other by base on ball and in fairness, the umpire most likely missed the call the led to the walk as Stroman seemingly painted the outer black with a 93 mph fastball. The pitch caused Stroman to smile as he was walking off the mound in the fourth, an inning in which he struck out the side. With a grin from ear to ear, he jokingly said something to the umpire which most likely was something along the lines of the pitch being missed.
If you wanted to see Stroman throw his entire repertoire tonight, you had to be happy. Stroman featured a fastball that sat at 93 mph along with a cutter, sinker, slider, curve ball and change-up. His slider and curveball showed good bite and buckled many knees of the hitters that he faced.
“I want to improve everything overall, but fastball command a little bit”, Stroman said when asked about what he would like to improve. “As far as pitches, my change-up felt really good. My cutter felt great, my slider felt good, curveball felt good, sinker felt good. Everything felt good. I’m right there”.
The sinker should raise some eyebrows as it is something that Stroman didn’t add to his repertoire until the end of last season and was something that he continues to work on and refine.
“I found a completely new pitch”, Stroman said when asked about his sinker. “I was never a sinker guy, I was always a four seam, slider. I would go five innings and punch out 13 but I couldn’t get deep into games. I didn’t have that early contact pitch that could get ground balls. It’s my most important and my newest pitch.”
One of the common complaints at this level for pitchers that rehab is the aggressiveness of the hitters. Minor League hitters want to show they belong and a guy on an Major League rehab can cause many hitters to be even more aggressive. Because of this, some pitchers have stated they weren’t able to work their repertoire in the way they would have liked.
“I would never sit here and say they swing early”, stated Stroman. “It’s baseball, you still have to get guys out and yeah, I feel like I was able to get to all of my pitches pretty well”.
If you wanted Stroman to test his mobility by covering first, you have to be doubly happy and relieved. The last out Stroman recorded was a ground ball hit to the first baseman, which required him to cover first and test his knee. In fact, if you missed him warming up, you most likely didn’t even notice anything wrong with his knee. In warm ups however, I found two things that interested me.
Stroman came out of the dugout with an elastic band tied around his surgically repaired knee and which provided resistance when his leg was straightened and would have worked his knee.
The other thing that was interesting and is something that I think you will see for the remainder of the season is his knee brace. The brace was something he carried out to the pen and set on the bench as he did his sprints and long toss. In between long toss and taking the bullpen mound however, his pants were dropped and a contingent of players and coaches surrounded him as he put on the brace. I don’t know if the brace was something they wanted to keep hush hush or if they just were trying to cover him with his pants down. In either case, the brace will stay, but he most likely won’t put it on in public again.
Not only did fans flock across the border for the rehab start, but a number of scouts also found their way to Lansing on Wednesday. I noticed one scout in particular had a Pirates back pack. Seemingly everyone wanted to see if Stroman was ready to go. To mark the occasion, velocity readings were not displayed on the video board as they typically are in Lansing. The readings on the scoreboard are typically unreliable anyways and most of the scouts had radar guns which routinely registered at 93 as Stroman worked.
Up next for Stroman is a rehab start in Pawtucket on Monday for the Buffalo Bisons. It will be minor league fans’ last chance to see Stroman live; he’ll be returning to the Blue Jays for the remainder of the season.
“I will be with the team the rest of the way. I will fly with the team to Boston on Sunday and then take a car service to Pawtucket and rejoin the team on Monday or Tuesday.”
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