Yankees pitcher Marcus Stroman throws in the bullpen, overseen by manager...

Yankees pitcher Marcus Stroman throws in the bullpen, overseen by manager Aaron Boone, during spring training in Tampa, Fla on Saturday Feb. 17, 2024. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

TAMPA, Fla. – Marcus Stroman received a torrent of blowback on social media and talk radio, a position he’s found himself in multiple times before, sometimes of his own making, sometimes not.

It was the latter in this case, and it came out of the righthander answering a question honestly.

Honesty is something media and fans often demand of athletes and coaches, rather than the “one-game-at-a-time” cliches that are so much a part of sports coverage. But too often, they punish said athletes/coaches when they stray from that kind of banality.

After his start in Lakeland last Thursday against the Tigers, the topic of Opening Day came up.

Stroman, with three previous season-opening starts in his overall successful career, seemed the natural choice with Gerrit Cole sidelined for at least two months because of right elbow inflammation.

“I think I’m going to end up staying in my position,” Stroman said, meaning the third slot in the rotation. “Just because it’s too late in the [spring] now to get on track for Opening Day. So yeah, I talked to them. I think I’m going to stay where I’m at.”

The "them" was manager Aaron Boone and general manager Brian Cashman, the pair having separate conversations with Stroman shortly after Cole went for his MRI. Both men desired that Stroman stay in the same spot he had been lined up for. But, out of respect for the veteran’s resume -  which also includes five postseason starts -  floated the option of him starting the opener March 28 in Houston.

There was agreement across the board he would stay on the same schedule.

Except Boone, who during his tenure as Yankees manager generally has excelled – to his credit – at protecting his players in public, took what should have been a routine 5-4-3 PR-positive double play grounder and booted it every which way.

Asked in Lakeland about what Stroman had just told reporters, Boone said: “As of now he’s not” starting Opening Day.

To a follow-up question, Boone crisply replied: “A lot went into that, but I’m not getting into that.”

Boone could have, should have, simply added another layer to Stroman’s comments and while doing so, announced Nestor Cortes as the Opening Day starter.

Consider how this would have played:

“Yeah, Cash and I talked to Stro and we all decided what’s best for us and best for him is to stay on the routine he’s been on since the start of the spring. So he’ll still pitch the third game and then the home opener and that will be cool. New York kid wearing the pinstripes for the first time at Yankee Stadium in the home opener will be something. Stro was great. He said, ‘Hey, whatever you need. You need me for Opening Day, I’m there.’ We all decided keeping him on schedule was best for everyone, and so we’re going to go with Nestor, and that’s so exciting. Rule V guy, 36th round pick here, bounced around different organizations without much success but stuck with it and finally broke through with us and now he’s starting Opening Day for the New York Yankees. He didn’t believe me at first. Couldn’t be more thrilled for him.”

But, in what has increasingly become the Yankee Way over the years when it comes to pretty much everything, all things must be treated with the secrecy of the Manhattan Project.

And by the time Boone, a day later, announced Cortes as the Opening Day starter and attempted to clean up the Stroman mess, several pounds of flesh already had been extracted from the pitcher.

Those unable, or unwilling, to accurately portray Stroman’s words in Lakeland are far from faultless – he, for instance, did not “turn down” the Opening Day start. But Boone’s clipped answers all but sent out smoke signals that something was amiss when nothing was, and that there was more to what Stroman said, when there wasn’t.

Stroman was fairly sharp Wednesday in a 78-pitch simulated game at Steinbrenner Field. With one more spring start (this Sunday) before the season, he nor Boone has said so, but it’s likely the manager privately pulled the righthander aside after the kerfuffle and offered a mea culpa of some kind.

“I’m not on Twitter [X] anymore so I’m not going to see a lot of reaction,” Stroman said Wednesday, that decision a prudent one considering some of his past ill-advised issues on the site. “But the last thing I can concern myself with is fan reaction at this point. I have to worry about my body, my mind and I'm trying to bring my absolute best ability to this team each and every day. So I'm focused on that.”

Stroman said “mentally” and “physically” he’s good to go for the regular season and would be if it started tomorrow.

“I’m ready,” he said.

It will just be on March 30, in the third game.

Which, incidentally, counts the same in the standings as Game 1.

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