After failing drug test last year, Patchogue-Medford standout Marcus Stroman wants to prove he's not a cheat
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A week after the fallout of the Biogenesis scandal, with MLB issuing suspensions to more than a dozen alleged drug cheats, a player who a year ago received a similar penalty applauded baseball's investigation and its anti-drug policies.
"I think it was a positive for baseball," said Marcus Stroman, a former Patchogue-Medford High School star who now pitches in the Toronto Blue Jays' farm system. "I don't believe anyone should try to cheat the game, so this was a step forward."
Last August, Stroman was suspended 50 games after testing positive for Methylhexaneamine, a stimulant with a chemical compound similar to amphetamines. It's an ingredient found in several products, including supplements and nasal decongestants, but is on MLB's banned substance list.
At the time of the suspension, Stroman, the 22nd overall pick in the 2012 draft, was in the middle of a successful season and recently had been promoted to Double-A.
Stroman, 22, said he was taking over-the-counter supplements twice a week "as a pick-me-up" on days he worked out and assumed they were safe. He considers it an indiscretion and took responsibility for the failed test, but he insisted it wasn't an attempt to cheat.
The Blue Jays "were disappointed and upset, but I explained myself and they looked into it and realized what it was," Stroman said. "People did the research and saw it wasn't something that I was using to enhance my performance."
Blue Jays assistant general manager Andrew Tinnish said the organization believes in Stroman's "character and makeup" and, at this point, is concerned only with "what he's doing now and going forward. And everything has been positive."
Stroman said the suspension was a wake-up call. He came to realize that drugs -- even dietary supplements -- aren't a requisite for success in the sport.
"Just more protein and now I'm taking multivitamins," he said. "If you're working out and can get into a good routine, your body eventually adjusts."
Stroman's role also has been adjusted; the Jays converted him into a starting pitcher for Double-A New Hampshire. He threw 191/3 innings out of the bullpen last year and has pitched 83 innings in 15 starts this season.
He reported to spring training in Florida in mid-February and remained there until his suspension ended May 19, he said. The time was spent "building up my arm" for the increased workload. He is 6-3 with a 2.93 ERA and will pitch Sunday at 3 p.m. against Richmond.
The 5-9 Stroman was a star starting pitcher for Patchogue-Medford High School and Duke University but because of his size, scouts suggested he would become a reliever in the pros.
What changed? "There is a durability component, but he's a strong and athletic kid," said Tinnish, formerly the Blue Jays' director of scouting. "We had initial thoughts about his durability, but so far he's answered that for us. He competes like he's 6-7."
Tinnish said Stroman's fastball command was better than expected and that his improved changeup convinced the front office he was capable of starting.
Stroman's four-seamer, clocked at 98 mph as a reliever, now sits between 92 and 94 mph as a starter. Still, he has been dominant with a 1.07 WHIP and 99 strikeouts, an average of 10.7 per nine innings. He had two 13-strikeout games in July, setting a Fisher Cats record.
That mark has since been tied by Sean Nolin, a friend and Seaford product who also is a touted prospect.
On May 30, Stroman ran into a former big-league great who overcame similar size questions -- Pedro Martinez. Martinez, who now works for the Red Sox, was visiting the affiliate Portland Sea Dogs to scout. The meeting followed Stroman's worst professional performance (seven earned runs in one inning), but Martinez pulled him aside and offered pointers. The 25-minute conversation, Stroman said, "was the coolest thing." He has allowed two or fewer runs in 11 of 12 starts since.
Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos has said there's a possibility Stroman and Nolin could be called up in September when the major-league rosters expand.
"It's always in the back of your mind because that's the goal, the dream -- being on an MLB mound with my family there," Stroman said. "But if I'm not called up, it just means I'll go to spring training next year even more motivated."
This season, Stroman said, is evidence that his triumphs weren't the product of pills.
"I have to go out there and consistently prove it to people," he said. "But, since I'm not the prototypical 6-4 pitcher, I've always felt like I had something to prove anyway."