ST. PETERSBURG -- Marcus Stroman has always wanted to be known as a big-game pitcher, and if he keeps pitching at his current pace, it might not take very long before that becomes a reality.
Stroman has never completed a full season in the big leagues, but he is already becoming one of the more recognizable faces in the game. The coming-out party happened during last year's postseason, and it continued with eight-plus strong innings during a 5-3 victory over the Rays on Opening Day.
With David Price long gone, the Blue Jays desperately needed someone to step up this year and become the undisputed ace. It seems like almost every contending team has that big-name starter, and Toronto has a guy who is quickly starting to fall into that category.
"That a bulldog lion is going out to the mound, is going to give it everything he's got," Stroman said when asked what kind of feeling he wants his teammates to have when he pitches. "Someone who doesn't want to give the ball up and someone who they know is going to go deep into games and just kind of leave it all out there on the field."
Stroman had never taken part in Major League Baseball's Opening Day before, but he was hardly fazed by the moment. The product of Duke University cruised through most of his outing, as he allowed three runs on six hits and one walk while striking out five.
The eight-plus innings tied Stroman with Pat Hentgen for the second-longest start by a Blue Jay on Opening Day. Jack Morris remains first on the list after he tossed a complete game in 1992, while Clayton Kershaw was the last Major League pitcher to go nine innings on Opening Day when he did it in 2013.
The Blue Jays got to experience first-hand last year what it was like having a true ace on their pitching staff. When Price took the mound, it was almost like everybody else could relax just a bit, because they knew the pitcher on the hill was going to give them a chance to win.
It's the type of reassuring feeling every team wants to have -- especially during a losing streak -- and according to Blue Jays shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, it's a similar sentiment with Stroman.
"When Stro takes the mound, it's different," Tulowitzki said. "He raises the bar that wants you to match his energy, and just the swag that he has really is second to none."
The most impressive aspect of Stroman's outing was his command. He threw first-pitch strikes to 15 consecutive batters during a span that began in the second inning and lasted until the bottom of the fifth. Overall, Stroman threw first-pitch strikes to 25 of the 29 batters he faced while throwing 74 of 98 pitches for strikes.
"He rose to the occasion. That doesn't surprise me, that doesn't surprise anybody," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "He's good, and he's only going to get better."