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It was easy for Tucker Barnhart to describe what worked so well for Marcus Stroman on Wednesday. He just had to call back to something Stroman said back in spring training.
“The sinker was ‘sankin,’ right?” Barnhart said, referring to Stroman’s “sanker gonna be sankin'” preseason quote, following the Cubs’ 4-2 win over the Mets.
It was about as effective as Stroman has been with his top pitch in a Cubs uniform. He threw it 53 times against New York. That’s the most he’s thrown the sinker in a single game since he went to it 54 times on April 21, 2018. And in this one — as the chart below shows — he seemed to have control over the pitch nearly every time he threw it.
The sinker didn’t get any swings and misses — but it’s not really a whiff-inducing pitch anyway (just a 15.6 percent whiff rate heading into Wednesday). Its effectiveness was in that it resulted in plenty of grounders when it was put in play, which kept Dansby Swanson, Nico Hoerner, Miles Mastrobuoni and Matt Mervis on their toes around the infield.
That all worked together so well that he ended up needing just 88 pitches to get through the top of the eighth (his first time completing eight innings since July 21, 2021).
“Nights like tonight when he has the sinker moving like that, it’s really tough to beat,” Barnhart said. “Seemed like they didn’t make an adjustment to it, so we just kind of kept going to the well, and it worked. Really fun game to catch. I mean when he’s like that, it makes it really easy on us behind the plate.”
“It’s still hard,” Stroman said of moving through the Mets’ batting order. “These guys are really good, you know what I mean? That’s a tough lineup to get to. Pretty much they know I’m throwing my sinker, and they’re swinging at my sinker. So, it’s just like, ‘Here it is.’ And when I get it to the spot that I can get it to, when I’m dialed in mechanically, I feel like I’m going to win those battles a majority of the time.”
It was just a very dominant game for Stroman, in an especially Stroman-style performance.
He had another couple of defensive highlights — he seems to make at least one every time he gets the ball — which included a Derek Jeter-esque turn-around jump throw on a tapper to his right.
“I’m a shortstop at heart. I still am,” said Stroman, who can often be found taking grounders pregame. “Part of the reason why I’m good mechanically is because I’m an athlete. People don’t understand that. I’m not just a pitcher only. I go out there, I throw from different arm angles. I go out there and I keep my athleticism. I don’t become a robot, essentially, so when I get in games, my body is easy to make adjustments for me.”
Heading into Wednesday, the league-wide ground ball rate sat at 42 percent. Stroman was well above that, and among qualified starters, his 55.8 percent mark ranked fifth in the majors. If Stroman is going to dominate any start, ground balls are sure to play a part.
So, it made sense that in one of the best starts of Stroman’s Cubs career, the ground balls never quite stopped coming. He generated 17 of 24 outs via ground balls. He ended up inducing 18 grounders (out of 22 balls in play), which is tied for the second highest single-game total of his career and the most since he got 19 on July 20, 2016.
“You feel like he can get the ball put on the ground as good as anybody,” Cubs manager David Ross said.
After the game, Stroman downplayed the “revenge game” aspect of facing his former team. He said he might’ve seen it that way when he was younger, but “now, I know how to pitch. I’m really good at what I do, and it’s just a matter of getting to the point mechanically and just rolling start after start.”
So, maybe seeing the Mets in the dugout didn’t give him much extra juice. But one thing is for sure: When he rolled a 6-4-3 double play to escape a first-and-third, one-out jam to end his night in the top of the eighth, the roar from the crowd was about all the juice he needed.
“That’s why we play the game. I get chills,” Stroman said. “The home crowd is incredible. I can’t talk enough about our fans. I truly think we have the best fan base in the league. From the second I go out there 40 minutes before the game, they’re showing me love, and then all throughout the game. Wrigley is electric.
“I can’t speak enough about the fans, to be honest with you. I’m very thankful to be a Cub.”
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