Stroman gets Opening Day assignment

Only 24 years old, right-hander is club's undisputed ace

Stroman gets Opening Day assignment

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Marcus Stroman openly lobbied for the job, and on Wednesday morning, the Blue Jays gave it to him by officially naming the 24-year-old their Opening Day starter.

Stroman had been the presumed top choice to face the Rays on April 3 at 4:05 p.m. ET since David Price left via free agency. The Blue Jays' anointment closes a year in which Stroman suffered a severe left injury last spring, only to return in September for a memorable run into the postseason.

The product of Duke University now takes over as the team's undisputed ace during his third big league season. It has been a meteoric rise of sorts and one that will come with added pressure and scrutiny, but Stroman believes that's the type of environment in which he thrives.

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"I think that brings out the best in me," Stroman said after tossing six innings in a Minor League start Wednesday afternoon. "The more pressure, the more that you have to get it done, I feel like the more I rise to the occasion. I'm excited to be the ace, I'm looking forward to running with it and I think I've put myself in a position where I've worked extremely hard.

"I've worked like an ace, so now the fact that I can actually go out there and be the ace is extremely gratifying and just shows the confidence that not only the team or my brothers have behind me, but the entire country of Canada has in me. I'm excited."

Stroman to start on Opening Day

Wednesday's announcement capped a remarkable two-year run for Stroman that began back in 2014 when he attended his first big league camp. The New York native made his debut later that year, and there was some speculation that Stroman was on the verge of being named Toronto's Opening Day starter in 2015 until he got hurt.

Stroman tore the ACL in his left knee while taking pitchers' fielding practice in Dunedin and was initially ruled out for the season. Stroman maintained all along that he would be back, and he was proven right when he took the mound Sept. 12 at Yankee Stadium.

The fact that Stroman made it all the way back was a big enough story, but he then became a pivotal piece of the postseason roster. When the Blue Jays had to decide on a starter for Game 5 of the American League Division Series vs. the Rangers, it was Stroman they picked over Price, who was instead used out of the bullpen in Game 4.

Stroman went on to make three postseason starts with a 4.19 ERA. Despite the lack of innings in the Majors, he was there for the Blue Jays when they needed him the most, and now he's the official leader of a staff with aspirations of contending again in 2016.

Stroman's scoreless start

"I'm more strong now physically, mentally and emotionally than I have ever been," Stroman said. "I went through a lot this past year and I learned about myself, the character of myself, because I was at a really low point in my life when I tore my ACL.

"Being able to battle back, get my degree while doing so, I feel like I'm in the best position now than I've ever been as far as confidence and I'm ready to just kind of take it and run with it."

Stroman likely doesn't have enough tenure in the league to a vocal off-the-field leader quite yet, but he can definitely lead by example. He has one of the most vigorous workout routines in the Majors, he is a close friend and protege of veteran lefty Mark Buehrle and he got to experience firsthand what it was like to be around Price.

"I picked those guys' brains as much as I could while they were here," said Stroman, who is 15-6 with a 3.31 ERA over parts of two seasons. "DP actually just texted me and said, 'Congrats on getting Opening Day, young champ.' That just shows you the type of individual he is.

"I'll look to take as many things as I can from DP, from guys like Buehrle. Not only things on the field like tempo, pitch sequences, the way they go about their business in the clubhouse, but also things off the field -- how to handle your business -- and I've just been in an extremely lucky position to play with those guys."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.