After tearing ACL in Spring Training, righty can send Blue Jays to ALCS
By Jamie Ross
TORONTO -- Marcus Stroman might be the only person who could've envisioned everything playing out this way. Seven months ago, his season was thought to be lost to a torn ACL in his left knee. On Wednesday, he'll take the mound in the deciding game of the Blue Jays' American League Division Series against the Rangers at Rogers Centre (4 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1/Sportsnet).
"It's hard for me to talk about. I get the chills," Stroman said, pondering how far he's come since he heard a pop in his left knee while executing a routine fielding drill at the Blue Jays' Spring Training complex in Dunedin, Fla., in March.
That was a dark day for the 24-year-old, who was expected to be Toronto's Opening Day starter and the anchor in its rotation. All of a sudden, he was being told his season was over.
Despite tall odds stacked against Stroman, the 5-foot-8 hurler pledged to himself that he'd return in time for a Blue Jays playoff run while laying in a hospital bed.
Manager John Gibbons thought it was far-fetched, and so did general manager Alex Anthopoulos. They encouraged him to work hard during his rehab, but neither was counting on the right-hander's return.
Rangers starter Yovani Gallardo is thought to be the only other pitcher to come back from an ACL tear in the same season when he did it with the Brewers in 2008, but his injury occurred in the right knee. Stroman's was in his landing leg.
"Because Gallardo had come back in four months, that was in the back of my mind. 'It's not completely out of the question,' but I didn't want to prepare for that or count on that," Anthopoulos remembers thinking.
The eternal optimist, Stroman headed for Duke, and with parallel plans to finish his bachelor's degree, he joined forces with a medical team at the university to embark on a rigorous rehabilitation plan that included twice-a-day workouts and the use of wearable tech to track his progress.
Even as Stroman made remarkable strides in his recovery, Gibbons admitted he remained skeptical that the young pitcher could overcome such a serious injury in a short period of time. Speaking ahead of the team's off-day workout on Tuesday, he was glad Stroman did.
"He defied all the odds, that's for sure," Gibbons said. "I didn't expect it, but thank God he's here."
Stroman made a pair of rehab starts and then went 4-0 with a 1.67 ERA at the tail end of the regular season to solidify his place in the Blue Jays' playoff rotation. He turned in a strong start in a no-decision in Game 2 of the ALDS, going seven innings while allowing three earned runs on five hits with five strikeouts. At one point, he retired 14 consecutive batters.
"Look, he's a tough opponent. This kid's got electric stuff," Rangers manager Jeff Banister said.
Stroman's performance instilled enough confidence in the Blue Jays that the club didn't hesitate to use David Price out of the bullpen in Game 4, removing any chance that the ace lefty could get the start Wednesday.
Stroman said he's been waiting seven long months for this dream to become a reality. All that's left to do now is to go out and pitch.
"It's a perfect situation that kind of played out in my head, and it's happening," Stroman said.
Jamie Ross is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.