The first-place Blue Jays have added former Patchogue-Medford star Marcus Stroman to their starting rotation just in time to face the Yankees in the biggest series of the year starting Thursday when the Blue Jays visit for four games.
It is yet another fortification of a team bent on making sure the Yankees do not overtake them in the AL East.
Stroman, speaking to reporters on Tuesday in Boston, said his start at Yankee Stadium on Saturday will make up for all of his lost time this season after sustaining a torn left ACL in a spring training drill.
"I think it just shows you that everything happens for a reason, I truly believe that," he said. "The fact that I came full circle, everything worked out well. I was going to be the Opening Day starter and to miss that, I was hurt by that, I was really hurt by that. To pitch in front of my family, Opening Day, my first full season of my big-league career, that would have been crazy. But we're here now and I'd rather be in the position we're in today with this team than for that."Stroman's father, Earl, has been a regular at the Stadium this season when the Blue Jays visit even though his son was on the disabled list and not with the team. The pitcher, in addition to his rehabilitation, completed his undergraduate degree requirements at Duke.
Stroman made two minor-league starts. He did not allow a hit in 42/3 innings in a Class A game, but was reached for four runs on eight hits pitching for Triple-A Buffalo on Monday.
Stroman was 11-6 in his rookie season of 2014 and is 2-1 against the Yankees in his short career.
"New York's where I'm from, it's where I grew up," Stroman said, when asked about how special it will be to pitch at Yankee Stadium on Saturday. "I grew up around Yankees, Mets, I grew up around in the city, so yeah it's special. My whole family will be there. I'll be excited, but more importantly I'm just ready to put our team in a position to win."
After the Yankees play the Orioles on Wednesday night, weather could play a factor for the series opener with potentially heavy rain in the forecast. Because this is the Blue Jays' last visit in the regular season, any rainout would necessitate a doubleheader. The only headway to be made for either team is sweeping the series or winning three of four. The Yankees have three left in Toronto starting Sept. 21.
The Yankees are continually asked if they watch the scoreboard to see what the Blue Jays are doing against their opponents. Alex Rodriguez put it succinctly when he said, "We don't even have to look. We know what's going to happen up there."
On July 31, the non-waiver trade deadline, the Yankees led the Blue Jays by six games for first place, seven in the loss column. Toronto is 26-8 since that date, the Yankees are 19-16. That is why even the 11/2-game lead the Blue Jays have seems more significant.
Joe Girardi has said he watches the standings from Day One, but he doesn't share the notion that the Blue Jays' lead seems bigger than it is. "I don't necessarily think that's our perception in the room," he said. "We know that we have seven [games] with them . . . Our perception is, and it hasn't changed, just go out and win and things will take care of themselves. And I think that's what we think about."
The Blue Jays stockpiled players at the deadline; the Yankees not only did not add any significant pieces, they have lost some of the pivotal ones they had with injuries to Mark Teixeira and now Nathan Eovaldi.
The series could be a slugfest. The Blue Jays have MVP candidate Josh Donaldson (37 home runs, 115 RBIs), Jose Bautista (33 home runs) and Edwin Encarnacion (30 home runs). Catcher Russell Martin, the former Yankee, has 17 and Justin Smoak, who hit a grand slam in the Blue Jays' three-game sweep of the Yankees last month, has 14. The Yankees have Rodriguez (30), Brian McCann (25) and Stephen Drew (17). Teixeira, who still leads the team with 31 homers, could be done for the season with a bone bruise on his right leg.
Except for Stroman, the pitching matchups have not been announced but David Price, who hasn't pitched since last Saturday, should be in line for Thursday. Masahiro Tanaka, who pitched well in a 2-1 loss to the Orioles Tuesday, is expected to be penciled in for Sunday's game. Luis Severino, Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova also will get starts.
Until the Stroman announcement, the Yankees were scheduled to face Mark Buehrle, who is 2-14 lifetime against them. Buehrle is to receive a cortisone shot in his left shoulder and is now expected to start Tuesday in Atlanta against the Braves, the Toronto Star reported.
With Erik Boland