SPORTS

Young Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman able to be himself at spring training

03/04/2015 04:00 EST | Updated 05/04/2015 05:59 EDT
BRADENTON, Fla. - With six pitches in his repertoire including a newly minted sinker, Marcus Stroman has plenty of reasons to smile.

And with a year in the major leagues under his belt, the 23-year-old right-hander is finally able to be himself in the Blue Jays clubhouse.

"Last year being a young guy coming into your first spring training, you can't really be yourself," he said. "And I'm pretty flashy, I talk a lot. This year I'm able to do that."

Stroman threw all six pitches — four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball (sinker), slider, curve ball, cutter and change-up — in his 1 2/3 innings Wednesday afternoon in a 4-1 Toronto win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on a toasty 28-degree day at McKechnie Field.

He faced seven hitters, giving up one unearned run on two hits. He also had one strikeout.

Stroman's afternoon was complicated by a Munenori Kawasaki throwing error in the second inning, a high throw from third base that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar would have had problems pulling down at first. Kawasaki then made amends with two good plays to help end the inning with just one run scored.

As a rookie last season, Stroman went 11-6 with a 3.65 earned-run average and 111 strikeouts in 130 2/3 innings.

"I expect him to have a big year," manager John Gibbons said before the game. "He's that good. And he's that confident.

"But it's not easy, it's not an easy level. He's going to get knocked on his butt a few times in his career. But he's one of those guys, you know, you feel good when he's out there. Good or bad, because he's prepared, he's a great competitor."

Flashy does not really do Stroman justice.

A muscular five foot eight and 180 pounds, Stroman comes with a ready smile and no shortage of swagger. His current hairstyle is a complex creation of different colours, lengths and shaved designs. His inked body tells its own stories and he rarely moves at anything but a jog, usually talking at the same time.

On Wednesday, he delivered his first warmup pitch running from behind the mound, a la Happy Gilmore.

Stroman, who played collegiate baseball at Duke, says last spring training he was so worried about making the team that it affected his performance.

"I feel a lot different, I feel much more relaxed," he said of his state of mind this spring. "I'm focused, I know what I have to do rather than doing everything in my power to go out there and trying to make the team, doing more than I had to.

"I'm relaxed, I'm motivated, I'm ready to go."

Veteran pitcher Mark Buehrle has taken Stroman and some other Jays youngsters under his wing. Stroman says while the two are complete opposites, "he's the man and I'm more than lucky to have him on my team."

"If I could have half the career he's had, I'd be more than happy with that," he added.

The Pirates won 8-7 Tuesday when the teams met in Dunedin in the spring training opener for both. After fielding a strong lineup at home, Gibbons gave the other guys a chance on the road with starts for Ezequiel Carrera, Kawasaki, Dioner Navarro, Daric Barton, Chris Colabello, Ramon Santiago and Ryan Goins as well as outfield hopefuls Dalton Pompey and Kevin Pillar.

Pompey and Pillar both doubled. Pillar also made a fine diving catch. Caleb Gindl recorded a triple in the seventh when two Pirates collided in the outfield.

Navarro, Pillar, Santiago and Matt Hague drove in the Toronto runs. The Jays outhit the Pirates 6-4 in a game that lasted two hours 47 minutes.

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