Blue Jays: Any doubt about who starts on Opening Day?

TORONTO, ON - APRIL 28: Marcus Stroman
TORONTO, ON - APRIL 28: Marcus Stroman /

Who will get the ball on Opening Day for the Blue Jays in 2018? It’s hard to imagine the choice will be anyone but Marcus Stroman.

Being named as the starter for Opening Day is an honour that many pitchers strive to achieve, even if it’s mostly a symbolic accomplishment at this point. Case in point, the Blue Jays entered the 2017 season with Aaron Sanchez as their expected ace, but he didn’t start until the second series on the calendar. It’s not always the “best” pitcher who gets the honour, but that’s most often the case.

The Blue Jays turned to Marco Estrada for the job in 2017, Marcus Stroman in 2016, and Drew Hutchison got the ball in 2015 (hard to believe, right?). With a rotation that features Estrada, Stroman, Happ, and a hopefully healthy Aaron Sanchez, there are a few solid choices for the role. However, if you were to ask around the clubhouse, it sounds like it’s not so much of a question this time around.

Marcus Stroman does not lack for confidence, but there’s good reason for that. After finishing the 2017 season with a record of 13-9 and a 3.09 ERA in 201 innings pitched, Stroman has offically put the last remnants of his torn ACL in 2015 behind him, and is back in the conversation as one of the best pitchers in the American League. If he is in fact tasked with the start, it will be the second time he’s been in the role, as he made got the ball in 2016 as well, as noted above.

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A year ago, there were several questions about his ceiling, and even his place within the Blue Jays’ rotation. As most writers and fans dreamed on a 2017 rotation, Stroman was commonly mentioned after Sanchez, Estrada, and Happ, as the luster from his star had worn off a bit after posting a 4.89 ERA in 18 starts in the first half of 2016. In hindsight, it would seem he was still working his way back and shaking the rust off from the year before, as he turned things around in the second half to the tune of a 3.68 ERA.

He continued to build on those numbers last season, and as the Blue Jays watched Sanchez struggle with blister and fingernail issues, Happ land on the DL, and Estrada battle inconsistency, Stroman stood out as by far the most consistent pitcher on the staff. His back to back seasons of 200+ innings have been crucial for John Gibbons‘ ball club, especially last season when the Blue Jays had to use 14 starters to get through the year.

Some might argue that it was presumptuous of Stroman to send out a tweet staking his claim on the Opening Day start, but I’m not one of them. There’s little doubt that he’s deserving of the honour, and when you’ve got a guy who is openly excited about the challenge of facing the Yankees’ new “murderer’s row”, that’s all the more reason to give him the start.

You need more than talent to be an elite starter in the big leagues, and Stroman’s confidence will go a long way to helping him achieve his goals, both in the short and long term of his career. That determination and confidence is what got the 5’8 right-hander to the big leagues to begin with, and that same drive will be what shape his career going forward, starting with the Yankees on March 29, 2018.

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