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Blue Jays’ Stroman finds happiness, comfort on the mound

Pitcher Marcus Stroman of the Toronto Blue Jays winds up to throw during spring training workouts at the Bobby Mattix Training Center in Dunedin, Fla., on Feb. 20, 2017.

Jonathan Dyer/USA Today Sports

Marcus Stroman is normally an ebullient type, bounding around the Toronto Blue Jays clubhouse here during spring training like he doesn't have a care in the world.

His flashy new hair style is usually covered up in a blue do-rag and he seems constantly in a hurry to get to somewhere important, be it the weight room, the dining hall or the baseball field.

A large, presumably gold, chain is often dangling around his neck with his HDMH (Height Doesn't Measure Heart) pendant attached. Stroman, who is listed in the media guide as being 5-foot-8, had his catchphrase officially trademarked in 2015.

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But Stroman's sunny demeanour seems to dim when members of the media darken his doorway, and he has done his best to ignore repeated requests for interviews since the start of camp on Wednesday.

Up until Monday, that is, when Stroman was finally swayed into providing six or so minutes of his time outside the Blue Jays clubhouse at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium to take a few questions.

Even then the ground rules were clearly laid out beforehand by Blue Jays personnel. Questions to Stroman had to be baseball related only. In other words, there was to be no mention of Stroman's famous Twitter breakup over the off-season with teammate Aaron Sanchez as the two "unfriended" each other on the social-media platform.

Both pitchers have in the past shrugged the matter off, insisting they remain good friends, although they seem to be keeping their distance in Florida. For what it's worth, a picture of both players laughing it up remains on Stroman's official web page.

Clearly Stroman, with more than 300,000 Twitter followers, would prefer to deliver his message – whatever that is – in bursts of 140 characters, or on Instagram, rather than through traditional media.

Stroman was asked on Monday about any desire he might have to take his message directly to the fans. "I have a pretty good connection with my fans," he said evenly. "I felt like I've built that over the years. I'm extremely authentic in everything I do so it's kind of how I go about my business."

On the mound pitching in Major League Baseball games is where Stroman obviously feels most comfortable, and he has utilized a steely-eyed determination to fend off criticisms that he is too short to be effective.

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Last season with the Blue Jays, his first full year after knee surgery all but wiped out his 2015 campaign, was a bit of a roller-coaster ride for the 25-year-old.

Posting an overall record of 9-10, Stroman was the only Blue Jays starter to log more than 200 innings (204).

But he went through a month-long stretch, beginning around mid-May, when nothing went right, posting a gaudy 6.99 earned-run average over an eight-game stretch, and there were rumours circulating that a demotion to the minors might have been in the offing.

But he never lost the confidence of John Gibbons, the Toronto manager.

"The reality of the game at this level is you're not going to be good every time," Gibbons said. "You're going to get knocked down, especially the young guys. He [Stroman] was in that stretch and there were people calling for him to be sent down. We thought he was going to work it out and he ended up hanging in there and turned the season around at the end there.

"But that's all part of it, especially [for] the young guys. Most of them, when they get to the big leagues fast, they don't fail in the minor leagues so they're not used to it. And really your top draft picks, they don't struggle much as amateurs either so that's part of the learning process. Some deal with it and some don't and they disappear. The good ones like him, they overcome that and they hang in there."

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Stroman's second half in 2016 picked up, although it really didn't reflect in his record. He lost five of his last six starts when the Toronto offence wasn't exactly covering itself in glory, scoring just eight runs in those outings.

And Gibbons called Stroman's number for the one-game American League wild-card playoff against the Baltimore Orioles at a time when many were guessing he would go instead with veteran Francisco Liriano.

And Stroman did not disappoint, turning in a gutsy six-inning outing, holding the Orioles to just two runs off of four hits and departing with the game tied at 2-2.

The game was ultimately decided in the bottom of the 11th when the dearly departed Edwin Encarnacion swatted a three-run home run that would end the game and send the Blue Jays on to play the Texas Rangers.

Stroman said his surgically repaired knee feels great, but alluded that there were times last season when it would still bother him.

"Everyone forgets I came back in five months from a full ACL surgery [in 2015]," he said. "I had to stop my rehab to come back and pitch for September and the playoffs. I had to re-amp my rehab and start it back up and start it in the off-season, so it's not the ideal process that you want to go through [for an] ACL rehab.

"This year, I feel 100 per cent."

The off-season was also kind to Stroman, who just last week won his salary arbitration against the Blue Jays, his pay jumping to $3.4-million (U.S.) from the $515,000 he had been earning. The Blue Jays had countered with an offer of $3.1-million.

And the matter certainly didn't create the rancour that erupted over the weekend at New York Yankees camp, where setup reliever Dellin Betances lost his salary arbitration, having to settle for $3-million instead of the $5-million he was seeking.

Even in victory, New York Yankees president Randy Levine ripped into Betances for his demand, describing it as "over the top."

"It's just part of the process," Stroman said of salary arbitration. "It's just unfortunate how it's being handled over there. I'm pretty good friends with Dellin Betances and you never want to see anyone go through that.

"But it's baseball, arbitration is something you have to go through if there's no agreement and it's something you have to deal with."

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