TORONTO – Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons couldn’t help but worry just a little. Marcus Stroman had a no-hitter alive through six innings, but the prized 23-year-old prospect was up to 91 pitches in a game the Blue Jays were well on their way to winning.
Stroman’s third pitch of the seventh inning and 94th of Thursday afternoon hit Shane Victorino’s bat and landed in centre field for a bloop single. The sellout crowd of 46,683 applauded, while Gibbons could take a deep breath knowing he wouldn’t have to make the impossible decision on whetehr or not to keep the young pitcher in the game.
Stroman ended up throwing seven innings of one-hit ball in an 8-0 victory over the Red Sox.
“I can’t say that I’m glad he gave up a hit,” Gibbons said, trailing off. “If this keeps going, you’ve got a young kid, you’re trying to win a division and you keep throwing him out there over and over. I don’t know if relieved is the word, but it didn’t hurt. Sorry, Stro.”
A night after 22-year-old prospect Aaron Sanchez threw two perfect innings of relief in his major league debut, Stroman allowed just one hit over seven innings to give the Blue Jays (54-49) not only an important victory in the American League East race but optimism about the future of the pitching staff.
“He had good stuff,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “He was able to get the ball on the ground, get a ground ball double play when he needed to. A couple of different types of breaking balls, with a pretty good power slurve along with a cutter. Throws a lot of strikes.”
Stroman improved to 6-2 with a 3.21 earned-run average, admittedly surpassing his own expectations in his rookie year.
“It’s definitely been a ride so far,” Stroman said. “But I’m not surprised. It’s just all the hard work that goes into it and going out there having your game plan and attacking hitters. That’s the biggest thing is just attacking hitters and getting ahead in the count.”
Stroman attacked Red Sox hitters on Thursday with a still-relatively-new sinking fastball to go along with his curveball. He couldn’t locate his four-seamer well enough, so he adjusted, and the combination he stuck with helped him finish with seven strikeouts.
Catcher Dioner Navarro joked that the best thing the young right-hander did all day was not shake him off even once. Better than that, he tamed a fearsome Boston lineup, including the same David Ortiz who tormented the Blue Jays earlier in the week.
“He barreled down, he got ahead of hitters and he’s not afraid of throwing the ball over the plate,” Navarro said of Stroman. “You’ve got to utilize your defence, we got a great defence out there and he did a great job, I think, getting ahead of hitters and finishing was a big key to the success he had today.”
The Blue Jays’ bats staked Stroman to a significant lead by beating up on Boston’s Rubby De La Rosa (3-3), who gave up six earned runs on nine hits in four-plus innings. First-baseman Juan Francisco (3-for-4 with 4 RBI) finished a double short of the cycle, and left-fielder Melky Cabrera drove in two more runs.
It was an offensive explosion as the same Toronto team that got blown out 14-1 Monday to start the series put up 21 in the past three games to take three of four from the Red Sox (47-55). Despite being without Edwin Encarnacion, Adam Lind and Brett Lawrie, the Blue Jays moved to within 2 1/2 games of the first-place Baltimore Orioles.
“It’s hard to go through the whole season with nobody getting hurt,” Navarro said. “Hopefully when we get those guys back they boost us up and we do what everybody wants us to do, which is make it to the playoffs.”
The long term – maybe not the playoffs but certainly the next couple of months – was on Gibbons’s mind as Stroman was mowing down the Red Sox. But even as the pitch count was rising and Gibbons thought the situation was “getting a little hairy,” Stroman was confident he wasn’t going to get pulled from the game had the no-hitter remained.
“They’re definitely watching pitches so it becomes tough if I would’ve got up into the ninth and I would’ve had 120, 130 pitches,” he said. “It’s almost like ‘What do you do?’ But I’m pretty sure they would’ve let me go.”
Stroman only needed to make one mistake, hanging a curveball to Victorino, to make it a moot point.
“He was down in the count, so he battled and squeaked it in there,” Stroman said.
Consistently good since being called up to the majors, Stroman made a statement with Thursday’s one-hit performance. His only lifetime no-hitter, to his recollection, came in a seven-inning game at the age of 12 in Cincinnati.
In the decade-plus since, Stroman has grown into a pitcher the Blue Jays are counting on for years to come. With Toronto in the playoff hunt now, it’s helpful that he’s proving up to the challenge.
“He knows he belongs here. This was his goal,” Gibbons said. “He’s pitching like a veteran that’s been around a long time, and he’s been very successful.”
Notes – Ortiz tweaked his back on a swing in the ninth and left the game. Farrell called him day-to-day with back spasms. … The 46,683 on hand marked the eighth sellout of the season at Rogers Centre and the largest crowd since opening day. … The Blue Jays begin a three-game series Friday at the New York Yankees. … By starting at second base, Boston’s Brock Holt became the first player in franchise history to start a game at every position except pitcher and catcher in a season.
© The Canadian Press, 2014