For the first time in his professional career as a starting pitcher, we are finding out that Marcus Stroman is a mere mortal.
So is he.
Since his ascension three years ago into a starter’s role with the Toronto Blue Jays, the little man with the big heart has been a continuing revelation.
The good times have far outweighed the bad as the 25-year-old carried a .714 career winning percentage (20-8) to the mound at Rogers Centre for Thursday’s game against the Baltimore Orioles.
That represents the second highest mark in the majors among active starters.
Even when he was felled for most of last season after tearing his knee in spring training, Stroman’s odds-defying comeback, which helped Toronto into the playoffs with four successive wins in four September starts, was rather inspiring.
So when Stroman falls into a funk, as he has recently, people are caught off guard, not having witnessed it before.
Heading into the Baltimore game, Stroman had allowed six-plus earned runs in three of his past four outings.
In his previous start on Saturday in Boston, Stroman walked five batters for the first time in his career in a 6-4 loss to the Red Sox.
Even Stroman is having trouble trying to come to grips with his struggles.
“That’s baseball,” Toronto pitching coach Pete Walker said about the hills and valleys a pitcher will traverse during a career. “And I think the sooner that Marcus just realizes it can happen, he’ll understand that it is something he can fight through, get through, and certainly turn the corner and get back on a roll.”
Stroman was better Thursday night but it was not enough to benefit the Blue Jays as the plucky American League East-leading Orioles (36-23) kept battling back to earn a 6-5 victory over Toronto (32-30) in the first of a four-game showdown.
Chris Davis cashed the winning run, lifting a sacrifice fly off Toronto closer Roberto Osuna in the top of the ninth that scored Joey Rickard from third base.
Davis drove in three of the Baltimore runs on the night.
Stroman was not around to factor into the decision, having departed with one out in the sixth inning after surrendering a home run to Pedro Alvarez that trimmed Toronto’s lead to 5-4.
Even though he only walked one batter, the right-hander was still clearly struggling with his command.
Stroman allowed four of the Baltimore runs off eight hits and many of his pitches were in the dirt out in front of the plate. He hit one batter and was also charged with a wild pitch.
“In bits and parts,” Stroman said after the game when asked if he considered his latest start a step forward. “Like I said, I’ll take the positives out of it.
“But I know how much work I put in and it’s not where I want to be and it’s not where I will be, going forward.”
Speaking before the game, Walker said Stroman is definitely in a rut and has worked closely with him over the past few days to try to iron out a couple of inconsistencies in his delivery.
Exactly what, Walker did not want to specify.
“His arm feels great, he’s still as confident as ever,” Walker said. “I’m sure he’ll bounce back.”
Walker noted that Stroman’s sinker, the dominant pitch in his repertoire, has lost some of its zest.
“Certainly the action on the ball, it hasn’t been the same,” Walker said. “The sinker didn’t have quite the same sink to it, a little bit more flat in the zone. And the breaking ball is a pitch he needs to complement that fastball. And it hasn’t quite had the bite that it has in the past.”
Manny Machado was in the starting lineup for the Orioles at shortstop, his four-game suspension for his involvement in a fight with Kansas City Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura on Tuesday on hold while the ruling is appealed.
Ventura is also appealing his nine-game suspension, which MLB levelled against him for intentionally throwing at Machado.
Things didn’t look good early on for Stroman, who issued a walk to Baltimore leadoff hitter Adam Jones to start the game.
Jones scored the game’s first run on a double by Machado.
Stroman was fortunate to escape the inning with the Orioles leading 1-0 after Machado was cut down at the plate trying to score off a Mark Trumbo double.
The Blue Jays scored three of their own in the first and another in the second to take a 4-1 lead.
The Blue Jays were ahead 4-3 in the fourth when Josh Donaldson clubbed a triple to the gap in right-centre, his second in as many games.
That scored Jose Bautista all the way from first base to put the Blue Jays back up by two.
Bautista departed the game in the sixth inning for pinch runner Ezequiel Carrera after a hip-flexor injury.
Alvarez’s home run, followed by another off the bat of Davis against Toronto reliever Aaron Loup in the seventh, tied the score 5-5.
Up and Coming Sports Stars to Look Out for in 2020
Every year, a raft of exciting new players come onto the scene across all of the major US sports. With the MLS season getting underway and the NFL and MLB drafts not too far away, now is a great time to look at the young sports stars that could have a very bright future ahead of them, and the ones that are already proving they are destined for greatness.
Theo Bair (MLS)
This MLS season is looking like it could be one of the best yet, with David Beckham’s Inter Miami team adding some extra dazzle to the league. Whilst Beckham might be able to attract a lot of new players to his MLS team, there are a lot of young stars on their way through such as Theo Bair at Vancouver Whitecaps. Bair has already made an impact on the first team and after impressing at under-20 and under-23 level for the national team, he has made two appearances for the senior team, well before his 21st birthday. This year could see Bair make a real name for himself in the MLS.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (MLB)
Montreal-born Vladimir Guerrero Jr has one MLB season under his belt but it looks like the best is still yet to come from him at the Blue Jays. He was heavily backed to take the league by storm but he failed to live up to the hype that surrounded him. Without the pressure of being the top-ranked prospect, this season could see Guerrero play with some weight lifted off his shoulders. He has been working very hard on his fitness over the offseason, something that his manager Montoyo has been quick to comment upon.
Connor McDavid (NHL)
McDavid has already established him as a top hockey player but at 23, he has the potential to go on to do so much more. The player was born in Ontario and was the first overall draft pick, showing how much expectation was already on him at that stage but he has gone on to prove that he is one of the best players in the NHL. McDavid could go on to be one the NHL’s best-ever hockey players and this season could be the year that he shows the world, not just the NHL.
Chuba Hubbard (College Football)
The Oklahoma State Cowboys running back has been making the headlines for several years now. He continues to improve and grab more attention for his impressive stats and performances. He was close to being a sprinter and nearly made the Canadian Olympic team before switching over to football. He is passing up the 2020 NFL draft to play his senior season at Cowboys. He should give them a good chance of winning the College Football Championship, though they’re trailing at the seventh spot in the latest American football odds at +2400.00, with Clemson as the current betting favorites.
2020 will definitely be a very exciting time with some of these young stars looking to breakthrough in their respective sports and show the world what they are capable of.
Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby – and looking to break the Curse of Apollo
Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby with early favourite Justify after watching the race from his sofa in Southern California last year.
The Hall of Fame trainer’s ability to produce Derby contenders year after year is an enviable feat and why his absence a year ago stood out. It was just his second since 2009 and occurred because his lone candidate got hurt.
Baffert will saddle Justify and 30-to-1 shot Solomini in Saturday’s Derby.
Justify is one of the greenest colts Baffert has brought to Churchill Downs. He’s won all three of his starts by a combined 19 lengths. If Justify wins, he’d be the first to do so since Apollo in 1882 without racing as a two-year-old.
“The thing about the Kentucky Derby, you have to have the right horse. It just happens. You can’t force it,” Baffert said. “All of a sudden, you have good horses and you’re there. So I’ve been really fortunate to have some really good horses.”
Baffert’s four victories are tied for second-most in Derby history. He’s finished second three times, too, including in 2012 with Bodemeister, also the last time he had two starters in the same year.
Like Justify, Bodemeister didn’t race as a two-year-old. He set a blistering pace and led the Derby until the final 150 yards when I’ll Have Another overtook him to win by 1 1/2 lengths.
Magnum Moon, the 6-to-1 third choice, also is unbeaten and didn’t run as a two-year-old.
“It’s going to happen,” Baffert said, referring to the curse being broken. “Whether it happens this year or whatever, but it will happen because Bodemeister almost got away with it. But I don’t really worry about that.”
Baffert almost had a third starter this year until McKinzie developed a hind-end issue that knocked him off the Derby trail.
“When McKinzie got hurt, I wanted to throw up,” he said. “I really think McKinzie would probably be second choice here. We’d really have a 1-2 here.”
Justify cleared the biggest pre-Derby hurdle by drawing the No. 7 post. Jockey Mike Smith can use the colt’s early speed to position him well for the long run to the chaotic first turn. Solomini ended up in the No. 17 post; no horse has ever won from there.
Baffert turned 65 in January, making him eligible for Medicare and retirement at most other jobs. However, he entertains no such thoughts.
“I work hard at it. I just don’t give up,” the white-haired trainer said. “I’m constantly meeting people. They’re sending me horses. If you don’t have success, you’re not going to get those opportunities.”
After a successful run in the quarter horse ranks, Baffert switched to thoroughbreds. He started with one horse.
“After 25 years, I’m finally getting horses that I don’t have to buy,” he said. “The big guys are sending me horses.”
None was bigger than American Pharoah in 2015. The colt swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont to become racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.
Baffert has compared Justify to American Pharoah, citing the colt’s imposing physical presence and big stride. Still, Justify has yet to encounter the kind of traffic the Derby’s 20-horse stampede creates and the talent as he’ll run against on Saturday.
“I’d rather have a really talented horse than one who’s seasoned and just on par with the rest of them,” Baffert said.
Early on, Baffert knew Justify had the goods.
“The first time I worked him at Santa Anita, I knew he was a really good horse,” he said. “The track was really deep that morning, and he went around there effortlessly. His first race, he ran incredibly and showed how special he was.”
That kind of intuition is what separates Baffert from his rivals, fellow Hall of Famer trainer D. Wayne Lukas said.
“Bob’s got a great feel for it,” he said.
Matthews ready to return to Maple Leafs lineup after missing a month
NASHVILLE — The hurtin’ tune that Auston Matthews has been singing for the past four weeks finally can be put in the remainder bin in Music City.
The Maple Leafs’ top centre on Wednesday declared himself set to return to the lineup after recovering from a right shoulder injury.
Wonderful timing, of course, considering the Leafs will take on the No. 1 club in the National Hockey League, the Nashville Predators, on Thursday night.
“In my mind, I think I’m ready to go and taking it as I’m getting ready to play (Thursday),” Matthews said after resuming his normal role, between William Nylander and Zach Hyman, during practice at Bridgestone Arena.
“It felt good, nice to get in all the reps and everything. (Wednesday) was a good step forward in that process, going through the line rushes.”
It seemed probable that the Leafs also will have defenceman Nikita Zaitsev, who missed the past five games as he recovered from an illness, against Nashville. Zaitsev was paired with Jake Gardiner, his regular partner, at practice.
For Matthews, it has been 10 games as a spectator with his latest injury, his third of the 2017-18 regular season after he missed four games in November with a back issue and then sat for six in December because of a concussion.
Thursday will mark four weeks since Matthews was hurt when he was sandwiched by the New York Islanders’ Cal Clutterbuck and Adam Pelech in a game at the Air Canada Centre.
A major bonus for Matthews in his recovery has been the fact he has been able to skate though much of his recuperation. That was not the case when he was out with his previous two injuries.
It’s worth noting that Matthews scored two goals versus the Montreal Canadiens upon returning on Nov. 18 from his back injury; in his first two games upon coming back from a concussion, he scored a goal in each.
Mike Babcock said a final decision on the participation of Matthews and Zaitsev against the Predators would be made on Thursday morning, but the Leafs coach was talking as though it would be a rubber stamp.
“This is going to be the best opportunity for (Matthews) because he has been able to skate and compete,” Babcock said. “The other times he was not able to do anything.
“To get him back … it’s still going to be going way faster than he has been practising, so there is going to be an adjustment period, but he’s a good player and he will figure it out.”
Defenceman Morgan Rielly didn’t think Matthews will take long to find his footing. Rielly missed six games in late January/early February with an arm injury, so knows what Matthews could be feeling.
“You’re nervous and you just want to get back into it,” Rielly said. “You play your first shift a bit hesitant, but after that it’s important you get back to yourself.
“It’s never easy, but Auston is one of those guys that I will imagine it won’t take long for him to get back into a rhythm.”
And there’s the trickle-down effect through the forward lines with Matthews in uniform.
“Guys are used to playing with certain players and when everyone is healthy, I think you get better chemistry throughout the entire lineup,” centre Nazem Kadri said. “Certain guys don’t have to play with different guys constantly and it’s just more of a set group, so I think it’s going to help us.”
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