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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — It only took two batters on Friday for Marcus Stroman to announce his presence with the Cubs.
On an 0-2 count with one out in the bottom of the first against the Giants, Stroman struck out Wilmer Flores with a high fastball. As he walked back to the mound, Stroman shot his hand to the right and did a little strut to celebrate his first strikeout as a Cub.
Then, only an inning later, Stroman froze the second batter he faced for another called strike three, turned around and he stared off into the outfield to mark strikeout No. 2.
“Did I do something? Man, I’m blacked out after, like I don’t know what’s going on,” Stroman said. “I have to see things afterward most of the time to see what happens.”
Those were the highlights from Stroman’s first start of spring training on Friday, a clean two innings of work that featured a trio of punchouts in his debut for Chicago. And it was that style that Stroman brings, that attitude he shows on the mound, that displayed just what’s in store for Cubs fans once the regular season rolls around.
“It’s been a while,” Stroman said. “Definitely felt almost new, but just to be out there, throw strikes, compete — it definitely felt great. The adrenaline, the competition. It just felt good to get back out there.”
Stroman wasn’t worried about his box score coming into his first start. It’s spring training after all, and considering Stroman was removed from the game following two scoreless innings, clearly the process was much more important than the results.
“It’s the first time I’ve seen hitters,” Stroman said. “I’ve thrown a ton of bullpens throughout the offseason, but competition is always a little different. You never want to do too much when you get out there the first time. It’s kind of dialing it back more than it is ramping it up, especially with this quick buildup, so just to get out there, get my feet wet and to feel healthy, it definitely was a good first one.”
Stroman is on a ramp-up plan that entails building up his innings and pitch count for the next three weeks. Stroman should get four starts in Cactus League play, and by that fourth and final one, he wants to be able to get through at least five innings and maybe even push for a sixth.
“He has a plan, we have a plan. We’ve communicated that,” manager David Ross said earlier on Friday. “We’ll stick to that and work and build up towards Opening Day.”
It’s a similar plan to the one rotation-mate Kyle Hendricks is on. Hendricks tossed two innings in a split-squad loss on Thursday, but just like Stroman, he said he wants to be built up to at least five innings (if not more) before the end of spring training.
Stroman is confident that he’s on that pace and will be ready to go for the start of the regular season. He’s said he’s already thrown 40-, 50- and 60-pitch bullpens, and he’ll focus on getting reacclimated with the feeling of going on and off the field over the course of a ballgame.
Stroman also credited his offseason routine for putting him in a position where he could come into the shortened spring training and not have to play catch up.
“I’m very dialed in with my routine. So it’s a lifestyle for me,” he said on Tuesday. “It’s not just getting ready for season. I like keeping my body and my mind right, no matter what. I feel like even if I wasn’t playing baseball, I would have that same approach to life.”
However, he knows there are others on the roster who do need a full spring training to get themselves ready to go on Opening Day.
“Losing time in spring training, it’s crucial,” Stroman said earlier in the week. “Baseball is such a structured sport and there’s such a development process in spring training. There’s a buildup, guys need to get their swings, you can’t load guys up too quick because then that can cause injury. So yeah, it’s a gray area right now for guys. I just know that how I prepared this offseason, I’ll be ready for anything. But you can’t say that for everyone, and it’s not fair.”
Regardless, Stroman’s first outing in a Cubs uniform went off without a hitch, and he’ll look to build on it moving forward. On Thursday, Stroman said he hadn’t gotten much time to work with pitching coach Tommy Hottovy in the “pitch lab” since the lockout ended and he made his way down to Mesa.
Expect that to be a focal point of Stroman’s training moving forward.
“I’m always fine tuning,” Stroman said. “I’m always working on little things, whether it be my body, my head control. There’s always certain cues that I’m looking on, and I’ll go back and watch video after this and see if I was on it.”
That’s just the nature of spring training.
In the end, the result of these games don’t matter. Win or lose, the only outcome that matters to the Cubs on days Stroman pitches is that he continues to ramp himself up and is ready to go in three weeks — when the fun really begins.
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