It’s no secret that the start of the 2018 season has been a nightmare for Blue Jays righty Marcus Stroman. Only one year removed from a stellar season in which he was the team's best pitcher and finished eighth in AL Cy Young voting, Stroman has struggled mightily through his first four starts of the season, posting a horrendous 8.55 ERA and 1.85 WHIP, but what has caused Stroman’s problems?
A lack of command
Following yesterday's game against the New York Yankees in which he was hit hard for six earned runs through 5.1 innings, Stroman vowed to work on his command which has been a lingering issue throughout his career. So far, Stroman has walked 14 batters this season after only walking 62 all of last year. This resembles Stroman’s 2016 campaign, where he finished with a record of 9-10 with a 4.37 ERA. Stroman struggled to find his command that season, leaving a lot of pitches up in the zone which, as most baseball fans know, are usually crushed. This has been an issue for Stroman again this season in that he has allowed eight extra-base hits including two home runs, both to the Yankees.
A lingering injury
It may also be possible that Stroman may not exactly be pitching at 100%. During Spring Training, Stroman only made two starts due to suffering from shoulder inflammation. This ruled him out for the Opening Day start he most likely would have gotten if healthy. It may also be worth noting that Stroman suffered from a blister injury midway through the 2017 season, which has been a common injury for MLB pitchers since 2016.
That one fatal inning
In three of Stroman's four starts this year, all of which have been mediocre, Stroman has pitched fairly well for a majority of his innings, but there has always been one frame in which Stroman completely unravels. In his season debut against the New York Yankees, Stroman was hit hard for four runs in the third inning in which he surrendered a walk, a double, and a home run, the only runs the Blue Jays' pitching staff would allow.
In his next start against the Texas Rangers, Stroman was pitching well before losing it in the fifth inning with two straight walks to start the frame, a balk, and two straight doubles. Granted, the Blue Jays' offense offered little run support with only two hits, but it was that inning in which Stroman fell apart, and his most recent start against the Bronx Bombers was his worst yet. Stroman allowed an early two-run home run to slugger Aaron Judge and seemed to find his groove until the sixth inning, when he fell apart and the Yankees scored seven runs, six of which were charged to Stroman. This disastrous frame included two walks, two wild pitches and a bases-clearing double. It appears if Stroman can elude that fatal inning, he'll find much more success this season
The final verdict
So, what is really the root cause for Stroman’s struggles? The fact of the matter is, we won’t truly know, but I firmly believe Stroman is still dealing with some shoulder discomfort from his injury back in Spring Training. As that heals and Stroman works his way back to 100%, he may very well return to his dominant 2017 form.