Blue Jays baseball hasn't been overly beautiful over the last six weeks but Marcus Stroman is shining through the struggles.
Stroman has impressed since he joined the rotation at the end of May, even as the Jays have scuffled offensively and lost their grip on first-place in the AL East. And, with Aaron Sanchez's impressive debut in relief of R.A. Dickey against the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday night, it appears Toronto has two of the best young arms in baseball.
The 23-year-old right-hander got the call to the majors in early May, making six appearances out of the bullpen before shifting to a starting role after a brief return to Triple-A.
Through nine starts and entering Thursday's start against Boston at the Rogers Centre, Stroman has delivered seven quality starts. His strikeout and walk rates have been above average and he's demonstrated he has a deep repertoire of effective pitches.
However, for as good as he's been, Stroman stands to learn most from the two starts that haven't gone so great. He failed to get out of the fourth inning in his fourth start on the road against the Yankees on June 17 and his eight start against the Angels in Anaheim on July 9.
In both rough outings, Stroman encountered the same problems. Opposing hitters weren't biting on his breaking pitches, taking advantage of his hard but flat fastball and his changeup that's still a work in progress.
The issues are easy to identify. When his fastball command eludes him, the breaking balls lose a lot of their value. Hitters don't have to chase when they know the fastball is coming in good spot for them to make solid contact.
Having a flat fastball puts an added emphasis on command and that's something Stroman is going to have to work through during the early parts of his big-league career. Now perhaps the most encouraging sign of Stroman's bright future, is how he responded his next time out after both bad starts.
He followed up the Yankees start by giving up just one run over eight innings this time at home against New York on June 23. In his last start, he threw seven shutout innings against Texas on July 19 after struggling with the Angels.
June 17 vs. Yankees
June 23 vs. Yankees
July 9 vs. Angels
June 19 vs. Rangers
Overall, Stroman's performances with the Blue Jays have been nothing short of outstanding. He's poised and productive on the mound and is proving he can grow from the challenging on-field experiences he encounters. Those moments of misery matter, because they show just how good he can be.