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Blue Jays' Marcus Stroman: 'I'm going to be special this year'

Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman during spring

Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman during spring training in Dunedin, Florida, on Feb. 17, 2019. Credit: AP/Nathan Denette

TAMPA, Fla. — The “Stro Show” premiered Monday at Steinbrenner Field, but this time Marcus Stroman wasn’t the main attraction in his first Grapefruit League start.

Stroman, who earned plenty of attention this month when he aired frustration about his contract situation, played more of a supporting role against the Yankees. He served up a home run to former Blue Jays teammate Troy Tulowitzki — a close friend — on his second pitch, a 93-mph sinker that caught too much of the strike zone.

“That’s my guy,” Stroman said, smiling. “It’s not going to happen in-season, I promise you that.”

Stroman knows all about the grueling rehab Tulowitzki put in with the Blue Jays because he spent much of last season dealing with his own physical issues, from lingering shoulder trouble to a nagging blister on his pitching hand. The two became close in Toronto — Stroman said they still text and talk frequently — and that’s why he was more thrilled for Tulowitzki than irritated by the homer.

“I can’t tell you how much work he’s put in to get back to healthy,” Stroman said. “I’ve kind of been with him through a lot of that process, and to see the tedious, long days, to see him go through the grind, is pretty tough. So I couldn’t be more ecstatic for someone because I’ve learned so much about the game of baseball and so much about life from that man. I’m forever grateful for him.”

The former Patchogue-Medford High School star is anxious to put last year behind him after injuries contributed to a 4-9 finish with a 5.54 ERA. It’s possible that annoyance carried over when Stroman showed up at camp and expressed his anger with the Blue Jays for not talking seriously with him about a contract extension (the team has disputed that).

Returning to the mound Monday, however, seemed to smooth over any hard feelings, as he was more interested in getting back to business. Stroman allowed a pair of homers in his two-inning stint, the other to third-string catcher Kyle Higashioka, but wasn’t concerned with results.

“I’m back to not having to think about anything,” he said. “Not having to think about not throwing a certain pitch because I know I don’t have it in there, or I know I can’t get extension on a certain pitch. I’m back to doing whatever I want, when I want to do it, and I can’t put into words how great that feels.

“My shoulder feels great. I haven’t felt like this since 2017. Last year was a battle, so just to be able to go out there knowing that I have my entire arsenal and repertoire in the tank, it’s going to be a fun year.”

He was eighth in the 2017 Cy Young Award voting after going 13-9, 3.09. As long as he’s healthy, there’s no reason to doubt Stroman, who has the ability and the confidence to match.

“I’ve spent a lot of hours in the weight room,” he said. “I’m strong. I’m really strong now. And like I said, it’s just more of being gradual, but once we get into the season, I’m going to be special this year. I promise.”

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