PITTSBURGH – The hype and surprise that surrounded Marcus Stroman landing in New York far exceeded the spectacle of his first outing in blue and orange.
It lasted just 92 pitches and 4 1/3 innings with Stroman being yanked in the middle of an inning due to his pitch count, leaving the mound at PNC with the New York Mets trailing the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The combination of a long layoff and a super tight zone by home plate umpire Bill Welke led to a laborious three-run outing in New York’s 7-5 come-from-behind win Saturday.
“I thought it was OK,” Stroman said after receiving a no-decision. “Going five is where I should be at least, at the minimum. Felt I was a little all over the place, command was a little iffy, but body felt great. Make a few adjustments in my mechanics and I think I’ll be where I need to be for my next one.”
In a trade deadline that lacked high-profile moves, the Mets’ acquisition of Stroman may have been the most surprising. The Mets were five games under .500 at the time, and that usually classifies a team as sellers, not buyers.
Especially not buyers of a top available starter.
These Mets are certainly bold, though, under the direction of first-year general manager Brodie Van Wagenen, and zig when others zag.
It’s a strategy that could backfire in spectacular fashion, or perhaps allow them to overcome the odds and make the playoffs.
In acquiring Stroman, Van Wagenen and his staff saw a way to add another solid starter for next year’s rotation, and provide insurance in case they traded Zack Wheeler or Noah Syndergaard at this year’s deadline. The Mets traded neither pitcher, instead hoping to make a run with a talented and deep rotation.
“I truly think we have one of the best staffs in baseball,” Stroman said a few days ago. “It’s extremely special. I hope to just come in and add to that.”
There seemed to be so much buildup leading into Stroman’s debut that it would have been quite hard for him to live up to.
His first inning is one he certainly will want to forget.
Stroman had last pitched for the Blue Jays on July 24, and nine days between starts is an excessive length. That long layoff led to some command issues.
His night began with the Pirates lacing four straight singles on pitches that mostly caught far too much of the plate, and it didn’t help that Welke had a rigid zone for both Chris Archer and Stroman, who combined for 68 pitches in the first inning.
With the bases loaded and one out, Stroman threw a borderline 3-2 pitch to José Osuna, but didn’t get the call, forcing in a run to put the Pirates ahead, 2-1.
Stroman entered the night with a 2.5 walks per nine innings ratio.
“It’s tough but it’s never an excuse. I would expect much more of myself,” Stroman said of the long layoff between outings. “Just was a bit wild in the first, I usually command certain pitches, I was falling behind in counts. Definitely make adjustments in my bullpen during the week and be better next time.”
Stroman managed to turn his night around by making a spectacular, highlight-reel play that showed why he’s a Gold Glove winner.
The 28-year-old managed to make a bare-handed scoop of a 64-mph grounder by Kevin Newman, and throw across his body to get the lead out at the plate.
Had he not fielded the ball, the Pirates plate another run on an RBI single.
With that critical out in his pocket, Stroman then induced a pop out to escape the inning after 35 pitches while allowing just the two runs.
That inning foreshadowed how the game would go for the Pirates (48-62) with the home team finishing 2 for 11 with runners in scoring position.
“Best play I’ve ever seen a pitcher make,” Mets manager Mickey Callaway said. “After that play, he settled in nicely and threw the ball well.”
Stroman got better as the game went on and retired eight straight at one point stretching the second to the fourth innings.
He excited after putting two on in the fifth in a 2-1 game, and one of those runs scored. The Mets had him on a pitch count of roughly 90-95 pitches.
Stroman surrendered seven hits and two walks while fanning three, but minimized damage by allowing just one extra-base hit.
The Mets (54-56) took him off the hook by scoring five runs in the eighth and ninth, with all being driven in by Wilson Ramos as part of his career-best six-RBI night.
“As I started to settle in, my pitches started to do what I wanted more,” said Stroman, who threw 49 sinkers. “I knew it was a little bit of a layoff. Once I get back to my bullpen and focus on a few things I’ll be much crisper next time out.”
Stroman is now lined up to start next Friday at Citi Field against the Washington Nationals, and he’ll only be on five days rest for that outing.
He won’t have to deal with changing teams, moving his belongings and trying to get settled in. He’ll be able to solely focus on impressing his hometown fans.
For the Long Island native, he hopes this is the start of something special.
“My family was excited, I was super excited,” Stroman said. “It was great to get back out there a bit. Can’t wait to see what this team does going forward and I can’t wait to be a part of it.”
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