© 2023 BSN LIVE, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
With a runner on third and two outs in the top of the fourth on Wednesday, Marcus Stroman made the play of the game.
The Rays’ young phenom Wander Franco was up to bat, and on a 1-1 splitter low and away, Franco hit one up the middle that might’ve driven a Tampa Bay run. The ball hit the mound, and then, all of a sudden, it was in Stroman’s glove.
Stroman had finished his delivery facing first base but kept looking toward the plate the entire time. When he saw the ball leave Franco’s bat, he shot his glove back toward the ground and came up with ball, needing just a flip to Frank Schwindel at first base to end the inning.
Not that a play like that from him should be a surprise. Stroman won a Gold Glove in 2017 and can be found manning shortstop during pregame batting practice. He’s certainly got the athleticism to make plays like that, and make them look easier than they are.
When he turned around, though, there was no celebrating for Stroman. We didn’t even get one of those moves he often does on the mound after a strikeout. No, when he turned to head back to the Cubs’ dugout, there was only frustration on his face.
And why was he frustrated after making a highlight reel-worthy play?
Well, because for the second start in a row, Stroman failed to make it through the fifth inning. He allowed eight hits and seven earned runs in 4 1/3 innings in Chicago’s 8-2 loss — which was called after the top of the sixth due to rain — and it just never looked like he found a consistent rhythm on the mound.
“I’ve got to be better,” Stroman said. “I can’t spot my team five runs down in the first and expect to get a win. That’s not even realistic. So I’ve got to be better. There’s no one that’s harder on me than myself.”
The script worked a bit differently than his last time out on Friday in Colorado. Whereas then, he flew through the first three innings before struggling through the fourth against the Rockies, Stroman couldn’t get a feel for his stuff out of the gate on Wednesday.
Four runs before his guys even had a chance to hit. Another added in the second. Three more (one unearned) charged to him while he only got one out in the fifth.
That’s not Stroman. Or at least that’s not who he knows he is as a pitcher.
“Just off right now. Just a mess a bit, mechanically,” he said. “Can’t find any rhythm. Nothing seems synonymous. Every pitch essentially feels like I’m doing something different mechanically. It just kind of comes and goes in stretches. I feel great for an inning or a few batters, and then I kind of just lose it.
“It’s frustrating. It’s beyond frustrating.”
It’s certainly frustrating for him, but it’s also just two starts early in a long season. He’s not worried. He even said it himself:
“I truly believe that I’ll be better each and every time going forward.”
And is anyone else truly worried about Stroman?
Even though he won’t make any excuses for his past two outings, there are some that could be made for him. Maybe the short spring really did hurt him, or at least more than he will allow himself to believe. Maybe he just didn’t work well in Denver last week (it isn’t known as a pitcher’s paradise, after all). Maybe the conditions on Wednesday — the cold plus the rain that eventually ended game — had an effect.
But again, Stroman won’t let any of those excuses change the fact that he knows he has to be better on the mound.
“It’s two bad starts. That’s all it is,” Stroman said. “I’m not someone to dwell. I’m going to do everything I can to work on things and improve, as I would do if I had a great start. I’m always adapting and changing. I’m a realist. This is not half a bad season. This is two bad starts, and I’m going to keep it at that and keep moving forward.”
“We run into people in life that want to make excuses or want to find a reason why it’s not their fault,” manager David Ross said pregame. “The accountability thing is No. 1 on my radar. When you see players be accountable for their performance, good or bad, it’s super exciting to see.”
Right now, Stroman can’t pinpoint what’s going wrong when he gets on the mound.
He and Ross both said his midweek bullpen gave them a lot of confidence going into his third start as a Cub. There, they saw the Stroman who pitched five innings of one-run, two-hit ball on April 10. There, they saw the Stroman whom Chicago gave $71 million to to pitch on the North Side. It just didn’t translate when he stepped on the mound to face the Rays.
“It’s frustrating, because I feel great for a few pitches or a batter, and then I won’t know where it’s coming from, where I’m off,” Stroman said. “I’m someone, usually in-game, I’m pretty good at making in-game adjustments pitch to pitch, and it’s just been a struggle for me right now. Me, (pitching coach) Tommy (Hottovy), we’re all working. We’re all working, and we’re doing everything we can.”
And what might that work consist of?
“I need to get to a mirror right now,” he said. “The second I leave here, I’ll be doing some dry work and anything I can to kind of put myself in a better position before next start.”
A player itching to figure out how to fix whatever is going wrong.
A player itching to show that he’s the pitcher that Cubs fans are clamoring for.
Get Chicago's Best Sports Content In Your Inbox!
Become a smarter Chicago sports fan with the latest game recaps, analysis and exclusive content from CHGO’s writers and podcasters!
Just drop your email below!