TORONTO - Marcus Stroman has always relished pitching in high pressure situations. The Blue Jays starter will get a chance to do exactly that in Game 3 of the American League Championship series.
The stakes will be high for Stroman on Monday. Toronto is trailing the Indians 2-0 in the best-of-seven series, and Stroman may find run support hard to come by. The Blue Jays' mighty offence managed just one run over the first two games in Cleveland.
That's fine with Stroman, the five-foot-eight right-hander who's never short on confidence.
"I think that's why you play the game," said Stroman, clad in a camo-print cap and a black T-shirt from Toronto rapper Drake's OVO clothing line. "I think that's why you get up at 6 a.m. to work out, that's why you do two a days, to be in this moment, to be in this time.
"It just excites me, walking out there in front of the home crowd, hearing them, just kind of gives me a lot more enthusiasm and confidence kind of going into it."
Stroman, in his first full season in the majors, is already no stranger to these types of situations.
He was called upon to start the deciding Game 5 of last year's AL Division Series against the Texas Rangers, a 6-3 win punctuated by Jose Bautista's emphatic bat flip that sent Toronto into the ALCS against Kansas City.
He also pitched Game 3 of last year's ALCS, earning the Blue Jays a much-needed win to avoid going down 0-3 in the series.
"We talked earlier about (Marco) Estrada pitching big games for us last year. And Stro's done the same thing," manager John Gibbons said. "He missed all last year. You guys know the story, came back, final month, pitched some big games to get us in there.
"In the playoffs he stepped up. And he's one guy, he kind of thrives on those things. He's made a few of those starts in his young career, but he seems to thrive on them."
Stroman last pitched for Toronto in the AL wild card game against Baltimore on Oct. 4, giving up just two runs on four hits with six strikeouts over six innings in the Blue Jays' 5-2 extra-innings walkoff over the Orioles.
With a three-game sweep of Texas in the AL Division Series, Stroman wasn't needed until now. He doesn't expect the 13 days off to be an issue on Monday, though.
"Doesn't change my mindset at all. It's the playoffs. I think that kind of takes care of itself." Stroman said. "I'll be locked in regardless of how many days it is in between starts.
"I feel like I have a very good routine, and I'm able to prepare my body to throw on how many days rest, regardless. I don't think it's going to be a factor at all, nor is it an excuse. I feel just as good as if it was my normal five days, so I'll be ready to go."
While he's had success in his limited post-season starts, the 25-year-old's 2016 regular season didn't go as smoothly as he hoped.
Stroman ended the year with a 9-10 record and lost five of his last six decisions. The bright side, though, was that he didn't allow more than four runs in any of those starts and he pitched at least six innings in all but one of them.
Stroman, who saw his earned-run average balloon to 5.33 at the end of June, tweaked his delivery and mechanics halfway through the season to make himself more effective down the stretch.
"Ever since I made that adjustment I've felt extremely strong," he said. "I feel great. I feel strong. I said it multiple times. I feel just as strong now as I did all year, and I can't wait to get out there."
Stroman will need an effective outing Monday to keep Toronto from the brink of elimination. But he'll also need a big game from his suddenly slumping offence.
After outscoring the Rangers 22-10 through the ALDS, the Blue Jays put up just one run over the first two games of the ALCS in Cleveland.
"Not really worried about it, to be honest with you," Stroman said of the lack of runs so far this series. "I think that's baseball, sometimes you go in spurts.
"Our offence is amazing, it's been amazing all year. I count on every single one of those guys to pick me up. And I have the confidence in them to go out there and score runs, regardless of what the previous two games were."
Gibbons also said he's not worried about the suddenly cold bats — just like he's not worried about Stroman on the mound.
"Perfect guy for a game like this, because he always steps up," Gibbons said. "Hopefully he can do it again."
NOTES: The Blue Jays announced that second baseman Devon Travis has a bone bruise and a small flap of cartilage caught in his right knee joint. He will likely need surgery but is expected to be ready for spring training next season.