One of the biggest things Marcus Stroman learned during his first full pro season was how to pitch with a limited repertoire. When starting every fifth day, he said, a hurler rarely feels like every pitch is on point.
The Blue Jays' No. 3 prospect realized early Monday that, for once, all four of his pitches were sharp, and the results suggest he took full advantage.
The right-hander faced just one over the minimum while recording 11 strikeouts as New Hampshire shellacked Binghamton, 8-1. The contest marked both team's regular-season finales, with Stroman finishing the year 9-5 by limiting the Mets to the lone earned run on two hits.
The 22-year-old said his fastball, curveball, changeup and slider all felt excellent from the start, and he also mixed in an occasional cut fastball.
"You definitely never have all your pitches like I did today," the 93rd-ranked prospect on MLB.com's Top 100 said. "Usually it's either two or three of them. I had a really good feel for all of them today. When you have command for all four pitches, you can be pretty dominant."
The Duke University product struck out the first four batters he faced and had five punchouts after two innings. He was perfect until Allan Dykstra singled to lead off the fifth inning. Thanks to a double-play groundball, however, Stroman managed to face the minimum through five.
In the sixth, Binghamton's Richard Lucas led off with a double to center. After moving to third on a grounder, Lucas scored on Alonzo Harris' sacrifice fly.
Lucas was the final batter to reach safely against Stroman, who fanned four batters over his final two innings before exiting after throwing 103 pitches.
"It's huge to be able to mix all those pitches, keep guys off balanced by throwing whatever in any count," he said. "Whether it's a 2-0 cutter or a 3-1 slider, I was able to command pretty well."
The outing marked the fourth time this season that Stroman has struck out 11 or more batters. His season and career high is 13, which he's accomplished twice -- last on July 31 against Bowie.
The outing completed a successful first full season for the 2012 first-round Draft pick (22nd overall).The right-hander finished with a 3.30 ERA in 20 starts, striking out 129 batters in 111 2/3 innings. He walked 27 and allowed 13 homers with a .234 batting average against.
The start of Stroman's season was delayed as he served the remainder of a 50-game suspension received last summer after violating the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. Stroman said in a statement at the time that he "unknowingly ingested a banned stimulant that was in an over-the-counter supplement."
Stroman made his season debut on May 19 against New Britain, posting five scoreless innings. Despite the strong start, Stroman held an 8.10 ERA after his first three outings before finding his stride and managing a 1.38 ERA in five June starts.
The hurler said the success became more consistent when he straightened out his between-start process.
"I felt like I was in a really good routine being a starter, between my days working out and throwing 'pens and the intensity I have when I'm doing everything," he said. "I've been learning how intense my 'pens between starts should be.
"Also, kind of toward the end of the season, I backed off a little. I used to really aggressively long-toss before I would pitch. I cut that down, and it gave me a lot more power in games. Just tweaks like that as the season goes on, adjusting for how my arm feels."
The Medford, N.Y., native labeled the season as a "huge" one from a development standpoint, adding that he thinks he's made major strides toward answering questions about whether he can start long-term.
"I was throwing my changeup a lot more," he said. "As a starter, that's a huge pitch for me going forward. I've learned how important fastball command is, being able to locate inside and outside of the zone. I've learned how to be able to pitch, not quite backwards, but throwing 2-0 sliders and changeups. Keeping hitters off balanced, that's been huge for me."
Stroman is scheduled to represent the Blue Jays in the Arizona Fall League. The right-hander will be one of seven Toronto Minor Leaguers on the Salt River Rafters and said he was "excited" to head to Arizona.
For now, his plan is to head home to Medford for a little relaxation. He said he may fly to Toronto's Dunedin, Fla., complex to put in a little work before leaving for Arizona but added he has yet to get official word from the Blue Jays.
Kevin Nolan was 3-for-4 for New Hampshire with three RBIs in the victory. Andy Burns, who will join Stroman in the Arizona Fall League, was also 3-for-5, collecting a run and an RBI.