TORONTO - The more conversations you have with members of the Blue Jays, the more apparent it becomes.
Nothing against David Price, a hired gun at the trade deadline, but there's no one they'd rather have start Wednesday's Game 5 of the ALDS against the Rangers than Marcus Stroman.
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"Stro just exudes greatness, confidence, belief, whatever word you want to use," first baseman Chris Colabello said Tuesday before the Blue Jays' workout at Rogers Centre. By Wednesday night, if things go well for the home team, the place likely will produce noise not heard here since Joe Carter walked off the Phillies in Game 6 of the 1993 World Series.DataLI baseball stars drafted by MLB teams all-time
"Watching him pitch brings energy to the fans, brings energy to us,'' Colabello said. "He is who he is for a reason. People are drawn to him."
As players in Toronto's clubhouse have been since the 5-8 righthander out of Patchogue-Medford High School bounded into their lives last season.
"He's got a huge heart," general manager Alex Anthopoulos said of the 24-year-old with the infectious enthusiasm. "His parents did a great job with him. He's very well liked, very well respected. Just a good teammate, a good human being. It's rare you get someone like that. He connects with fans, just represents the organization extremely well."
Of course, results matter, and those have been there, too. Stroman went 11-6 with a 3.65 ERA as a rookie and came to spring training as the expected ace of the 2015 staff. A freakish ACL tear on March 10, however, apparently ended his season.
But he followed an aggressive rehabilitation schedule, overseen by doctors at Duke University, where Stroman rehabbed and completed his undergraduate degree. He returned in early September, just in time to inject life in a starting rotation that had been on fumes even after the addition of Price. Stroman went 4-0 with a 1.76 ERA.
Price was hit hard in the Game 1 loss to Texas. In Game 2, Stroman recovered after some bad luck early to retire 18 of 20 at one point. (The Jays lost in 14 innings.) After Game 2, a feeling began to emerge that Stroman in a potential Game 5 might be the better option.
"He pitched well [in Game 2] and didn't even have his good slider," a talent evaluator said, referencing what most consider to be Stroman's best pitch. "Against that lineup, a fastball-hitting team, I'd want Stroman."
John Gibbons used Price out of the bullpen in Monday's 8-4 Game 4 win. Price allowed three runs and six hits in three innings, meaning Gibbons wouldn't have to make a difficult Price-or-Stroman call for Game 5. Now, the stage is unquestionably Stroman's.
"He enjoys being in that spotlight, he kind of feeds off of that energy and we feed off his energy," said catcher Russell Martin, who has compared the 180-pound Stroman to a similarly sized pitcher, Pedro Martinez. "I'm happy that he's going to be out there for Game 5."
Stroman didn't try to hide his enthusiasm. Then again, he never does, on or off the mound.
"I enjoy the pressure, I enjoy the spotlight," he said. "This is a big stage and I'm just excited to be out there. I'm going to come to the clubhouse like I always do and go about my business and have some fun out there."