Marcus Stroman had just endured the worst performance of his pro career -- seven earned runs in one inning of a Double-A game. He was dejected, obviously, but soon came a pep talk the Medford native literally carries with him to this day.
Words of advice came from someone who, like the 5-9 Stroman, overcame the doubts and disadvantages of being a diminutive pitcher. It was Pedro Martinez.
"That was the coolest thing ever," Stroman said of his meeting with the former Red Sox great May 30 last year.
Martinez was scouting the Portland Sea Dogs, a Red Sox affiliate, but Stroman immediately caught his eye. What followed was a half-hour conversation, then a lengthy transcription session. "I ran to my phone to write down everything I remembered him saying," said Stroman, now a rookie standout for the Toronto Blue Jays. "It's a really long note."
With pointers including: "Not staying in the same zone too much . . . How to elevate and change hitters' eye levels . . . Sitting back on my right leg."
Those notes are still in his iPhone and he reviews them voraciously before each start. Funny, a year later, Stroman has Major League Baseball taking note of him.
The former Patchogue-Medford star is 6-2 with a 3.21 ERA in 671/3 innings. In the last month, he has dazzled with a 1.82 ERA, even outperforming Blue Jays All-Star Mark Buehrle in that span. A notable achievement.
"He's a first-class kid, but he's also talented and motivated," Toronto manager John Gibbons said. "He's that short guy who's been told by so many people he can't do certain things, and he's proven them wrong at every step."
In five of his last six starts, Stroman has allowed no more than two runs and gone at least 62/3 innings. He also is allowing line drives on only 15.9 percent of the balls hit off him.
"I've always believed in myself so the success hasn't surprised me," the former 2012 first-round pick said, "but I do wake up every morning like, 'Wow. I'm here.' "
Stroman's fastball has averaged 93.8 mph, dispelling initial concerns his velocity would dip with a move from the bullpen to the rotation. He also has expanded his repertoire with a slider, two-seamer, cutter, changeup and curveball. And possibly a sinker now, too.
Thursday, he one-hit the Red Sox for seven innings and did so, he said, without fastball command. He used the sinker, a pitch he threw twice this year. Proof, teammate Aaron Sanchez said, that Stroman "keeps evolving and getting better."
"Marcus doesn't look like someone who'll be a flash in the pan," said R.A. Dickey, a former Cy Young winner. "He's able to spin the baseball better than most guys I've seen at this level and he's got all the tools to be really good for a long time."