Yankees’ new starter overcomes shaky defense and shines in debut

MLB: New York Yankees-Workouts
Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Marcus Stroman was never expected to sign with the Yankees entering the winter, and yet yesterday he took the ball for their third game of the season. With the team collecting two early-season wins, the right-hander would have a chance to hand the Yankees their first 3-0 start to a season since 2003, when they won the AL Pennant. It’s been 14 years since they’ve been to the World Series, and Stroman knows that the goal for this team is to bring home their 28th World Series Championship.

The expectations in the Bronx can be overwhelming, and we’ve certainly seen both the good and ugly when Marcus Stroman is under the spotlight. Yesterday however was a performance from someone with poise and control of their emotions and stuff on the mound, and he turned in a brilliant outing in his debut with the Yankees.

Marcus Stroman Flashes Poise in First Start With the Yankees

MLB: New York Yankees at Houston Astros
Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees knew they were getting a groundball machine in Marcus Stroman, and that means that he relies on a strong defense behind him to convert the soft contact he induces into outs. Instead, the Bronx Bombers made three errors behind Stroman, resulting in three unearned runs, which would normally sink any other pitcher’s night. Runs were hard to come by for New York as well, as they scored just one run in the six innings that Stroman was on the mound for, and yet the right-hander remained resilient and continued to battle against a potent Astros lineup.

One of the first things that stood out in this start was the aggressiveness with his cutter usage, a pitch that mirrored the shape of a slider more than his usual cutter. His ability to locate it down and away gave it a Whiff Rate of 56%, and it was his pitch of choice when he wanted a strikeout against difficult right-handed batters. He used the sinker and cutter 39% and 37% of the time respectively, and while Stroman isn’t a high-whiff pitcher, these two pitches could work in tandem to help him miss bats in situations like yesterday where the defense is spotty.

The cutter thrown to Jeremy Pena to end the sixth inning was his final pitch of the game, and yet it was arguably his most brilliant. More of a slider than a cutter, this pitch had -0.4 inches of Induced Vertical Break with -4.2 inches of glove-side sweep, it was a perfectly placed pitch that he knew the hitter would chase at. His horizontal release point was wide in this game, something that could have come from the small tweaks he made in Spring Training to change how high he holds his glove during his delivery.

Marcus Stroman is always tinkering with his mechanics and arsenal, constantly looking to improve and refine his craft, a studious pitcher in the same manner that Gerrit Cole is. He prides himself in being able to pitch deep into games, he wants to be the ace of this staff, and this team desperately needs someone to step up and do the impossible job of replacing the reigning AL Cy Young winner while he’s sidelined with elbow inflammation. Yesterday doesn’t ensure that the 33-year-old right-hander has turned a new leaf or is ready to return to his All-Star form, but it’s step towards that goal.

MLB: New York Yankees-Workouts
Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Things haven’t always been pretty between the Yankees and Marcus Stroman, and yet here he is firing quality innings in Houston to help spark a comeback. It wasn’t too long ago that he was an enemy to the fanbase, but this second chance to try and amend his image in New York is an opportunity few get. The Yankees aren’t asking Stroman to not be fiery on the mound or flashy when he gets a big strikeout or makes a great play, and that’s an important part of making this relationship work.

He’s passed his first test in the Bronx and has stuck to retweeting highlights (and liking tweets on Fireside Yankees) instead of tweeting. Stroman could have snapped back at the radio hosts questioning his commitment to the team for not starting on Opening Day, or the fans berating him for that very same choice, but there was never a response on social media. That’s a step in the right direction as well, unfair or not, the criticism in New York will always persist, regardless of what you accomplish on the field.

Marcus Stroman has plenty he has to prove still to make his contract in New York worth it, but in an ever-important start to open the season, he was everything the Yankees needed him to be.

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