Earlier this year I wrote a piece profiling Marcus Stroman as he had an outside chance at landing the 5th spot in the Blue Jays rotation at the start of the year. While it was pretty unlikely, there was the chance Stroman could be added. As expected Stroman started the year in AAA with the Buffalo Bisons and put up excellent numbers posting a 1.69 ERA in 5 starts with 36 SO and 7 BB. Stroman was called up on May 4th and was originally given the opportunity to help secure the back-end of the Blue Jays bullpen that had been faltering. Additionally with the injury to Brandon Morrow, Dustin McGowan‘s poor performance and the wild card in J.A. Happ most expected Stroman to join the rotation in short order.
In the process several things happened. First off, Happ has pitched okay since his return from the DL and has secured his spot in the back-end of the Blue Jays rotation. He has most of the time gone 5+ innings and given the Blue Jays a chance to win around 50% of the time. Thats really what you get from Happ, a back-end starter who at times is good and at times pretty poor. It’s a mixed bag but overall good enough as a 5th starter.
Secondly, McGown will the help of an insulin pump turned in a few good starts in a row. This really delayed the McGowan decision and earned him a few more starts. However it was becoming obvious that McGowan did not have the stamina needed to go 6-7 innings and after a forgettable loss on May 14th was moved to the bullpen permanently thus ending the experiment of McGowan as a starter. He returned to his role in the pen which he excelled at in 2013 and in turn helped strengthen the pen which had been suffering. This move has helped McGowan greatly as he has been dominant in his new role posting a 1.29 ERA, .714 WHIP in 7IP out of the pen.
During this time Stroman was used out of the bullpen and not given a chance to start. As a reliever Stroman was not effective getting hit hard allowing a .419 AVG and a bloated 12.79 ERA over 6.1 innings of relief. The sample size is small but since the Blue Jays want Stroman to be a starter they returned him to Buffalo to get (re)stretched out so in time he could return as a starter. I think the intent was to give him a one or two appearances in relief, wet his whistle which would allow some time on a decision as to which spot he would take in the rotation. As mentioned above it just did not work out as planned and he needed to get back into form.
In the meantime Liam Hendriks was chosen to start as Stroman needed to get stretched out again. Hendriks flat-out earned the chance posting a brilliant 1.48 ERA, 3 BB vs 36 SO in 48.2 IP. The Aussie however had not impressed in his previous 30 MLB starts with the Twins posting a 67 ERA+. The 25-year-old has shown excellent command and he dominated AAA earning the promotion. You could look at Hendriks 2 starts and marvel at the shinny 2.31 ERA and assume he did a great job. In fairness he gave the Blue Jays what they needed, quality innings. However Hendriks achieved this by narrowly escaping HR after HR with warning track laser beams. He got really lucky as his 5.21 FIP would suggest. Hendriks would probably do well playing for a team in a really friendly pitchers park that can handle some long fly balls. For now Hendriks has been returned to AAA but he should keep his head up knowing he did a good job even if he was a bit lucky.
After all of this and a few additional warm up starts in AAA, Stroman was called upon on May 31st to make his first MLB start against the Kansas City Royals. Drew Hutchison was moved up to June 3rd to give him a few extra days rest which opened the door for Stroman to return and show what he can do in the rotation. He did not disappoint in his first start going 6 IP, 1 ER, 5 hits, 0 BB, 6 SO all adding up to a solid performance and his first Win as a starter. His pitches looked really good, lots of movement and at times he looked dominant. This was the type of performance that showed Blue Jays fans why Stroman has been ranked as a top Blue Jays prospect.
After his start John Gibbons told the media that Stroman was here to stay for now and in turn Hendriks was optioned to AAA. This was the play several weeks ago but various details derailed the process in the meantime. Stroman by no way has full control on his starting spot, with the Blue Jays in 1st place in the AL East they will continue to monitor the situation but for now they feel he is the best option. Its always a great story when a young prospect can step up and help impact the big league club, the Blue Jays are hoping Stroman can provide that help and in turn help secure the rotation for the remainder of 2014. An effective Stroman would help quiet the talk about the need to add another arm like the ever available Jeff Samardzija.