Blue Jays tab Stroman to start Wild Card Game

Right-hander's previous playoff experience earns nod vs. O's

Blue Jays tab Stroman to start Wild Card Game

TORONTO -- Marcus Stroman might only be 25, but it feels like he has been down this road plenty of times before. He's no stranger to the must-win game.

Toronto officially announced Stroman as its starting pitcher for tonight's American League Wild Card Game against the Orioles (8 ET, TBS/Sportsnet in English or RDS in French). The righty was picked over left-hander Francisco Liriano, and Stroman's experience during last year's run to the AL Championship Series was one of the main reasons.

The Blue Jays handed the ball to Stroman three times last October. He got the call in Game 2 of the AL Division Series vs. Texas and then again in the decisive Game 5. Toronto also turned to him in Game 3 of the ALCS when the Blue Jays were facing a 2-0 deficit to the Royals. The big stage, the big moment, this is what Stroman lives for.

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"It's my personality, it's the individual I am," said Stroman, who went 9-10 with a 4.37 ERA this season. "I pitch with a lot of emotion, lot of energy. My teammates and everyone around me in the organization loves it as well, and they want me to go out there and be myself. It's the Wild Card Game, I'm sure we'll be pretty excited out there and ready to go."

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Toronto will have to hope that Stroman's ability to rise to the occasion shines through once again tonight. He faces the daunting task of trying to tame a powerful Orioles lineup that has caused the native of New York fits all year. In four starts vs. Baltimore this season, Stroman is 1-2 with a 7.04 ERA over 23 innings.

Those numbers are one of the main reasons why Toronto's decision to go with Stroman came as somewhat of a surprise. Baltimore ranked last in the AL with a .692 OPS vs. lefties, and in Liriano's final outing of the regular season, he tossed 6 1/3 scoreless innings while striking out 10 against the Orioles.

Stroman's final start also came against Baltimore. In that outing, he allowed four runs on nine hits and a pair of walks over seven innings. The one thing Toronto knows is that he will throw a lot of strikes and that, unlike Liriano, walks should not be a concern.

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"It wasn't easy," manager John Gibbons said of the decision. "I think Stro's a perfect guy. Big game, we've seen him do it before. Even did it a couple of times for us last year. You know he's going to come out throwing strikes so I'm glad he's available."

The decision to use Stroman in this type of game would have come as a major shock a few months ago. He was the Opening Day starter, but nothing seemed to come easy for Stroman over the first three months of the regular season.

Stroman had a 5.33 ERA on June 26 and there were even some rumblings from the fanbase that he should be sent to the Minor Leagues. The Blue Jays did not feel the same way and it turned out to be a good thing because after Stroman made a series of minor adjustments in early July, the positive results started to follow.

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From July 1 until the end of the year, Stroman posted a 3.42 ERA. He also went 3-6 over that span, but his lack of wins was solely centered around a lack of run support. The fact is, Stroman has looked like his former self for the last three months and counting.

"I got the official word this morning and it felt great, it shows me the confidence that this organization, this staff, the front office, the entire country of Canada has in me to go out there and give me the ball," Stroman said.

"I couldn't be happier. I couldn't be prouder and I couldn't be more excited to be out there in a deciding game to put us in the playoffs. So I relish this opportunity and I can't wait."

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. 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.