Napoleon complex? Marcus Stroman would probably take that as a compliment.
Small man, big swagger, scary arsenal and all that. Yes, Stroman can piss people off. That’s probably how the Tampa Bay announcers were feeling in the fifth inning when, according to a Twitter report, they accused the Blue Jays’ pitcher of conjuring Napoleon.
Rays’ first baseman Logan Morrison must have thought so too. After Stroman got him on a fly ball, Morrison circled back near the mound on his way to the dugout, and suddenly, the two were jawing at each other.
“What the f— are you talking about?” Stroman yelled. Morrison’s part in the conversation was a little less vivid, but he kept yelling from the dugout, and Stroman kept shouting back that he hadn’t said a word to Morrison.
“I think it was a miscommunication,” Stroman said after working eight solid innings of the Jays’ 5-3 win on opening day. “I’m not sure there, to be honest with you. But maybe he thought I was yelling at him. I was yelling at myself. I’m a big self-motivation guy.”
Morrison had calmed down afterward.
“I just heard him yell something and caught him looking at me so I thought he was talking to me,” Morrison said. “He said he wasn’t talking to me. It was my first time facing him and I forgot he did that whole ‘yell-at-himself’ thing, so maybe he was doing that, I don’t know.”
That whole yell-at-himself thing was working on Sunday, and so was Stroman’s sinker, which helped him generate 14 ground-ball outs on a day when his slider was missing in action for most of the game.
“That’s my new pitch,” Stroman said of the sinker. “If I’m throwing that where I want to, I feel like I’m able to get weak contact and keep the ball on ground. That’s my pitch that I kind of feed off of. When that pitch is working, I feel like I’m able to incorporate other things and keep guys off-balance.”
The Jays scored twice in the first off Rays’ ace Chris Archer, who settled down nicely but an inning too late, and Stroman, after yielding a run in the third, didn’t allow a hit from the fourth through the eighth.
He was remarkably efficient. In the fifth inning, when Morrison took exception to Stroman’s self-motivation speech, Stroman retired the side in order on four pitches.
Entering the ninth, Stroman had thrown 92 pitches and manager John Gibbons let him go back out with a 5-1 lead. But after Corey Dickerson led off with a home run and Desmond Jennings singled, Gibbons summoned Roberto Osuna to wrap things up.
After missing almost all of last season while recovering from knee surgery, Stroman came as advertised. Many of the advertisements are self-authored, which tends to irritate some critics who feel the whole Height Doesn’t Measure Heart narrative is getting a bit tired. Don’t expect any apologies from the author. He’s got patents and trademarks and his own clothing line. And he does seem to have a knack for delivering on his promises.
“He brings energy. He competes as well as anyone I’ve ever seen,” said Troy Tulowitzki, whose two-run homer in the eighth gave the Jays some room to breathe. “He keeps me busy.”
Busy? How about seven ground balls to the veteran shortstop, including one that earned a star on my scorecard in that very brief fifth inning.
“He raises the bar,” Tulowitzki said. “You want to match his energy. Just the swag that he has, really, is second to none.”
Stroman vowed he’d become the ace of this staff. He even made that promise to David Price last year, back when he hoped Price would come back.
Stroman turns 25 on May 1. He has not pitched a full season in the big leagues. But as Gibbons observed, he’s the obvious choice to lead this rotation.
“We’ve got some different style pitching,” Gibbons said. “He’s the one guy that brings power at you. Even that little guy, he brings a lot of power at you. And really, he’s got the mentality. Stro loves the attention, he loves being at the centre and he loves competing. All those things really fit those No. 1 guys.”
Tulowitzki: “Every team needs that ace because he stops losing streaks and he extends winning streaks. The confidence goes up the day he takes the mound. Although it’s one start, I think he really wants to step into that role and be that guy.”
Gibbons said we shouldn’t expect that sort of performance every time Stroman starts. Even the good ones get hit hard occasionally.
Napoleon sure did. You could look it up. He rebounded, but only for 100 days or so. But don’t bet against Stroman. He has already endured his exile, and his defence is better than Napoleon’s.