PITTSBURGH – It's fitting Marcus Stroman is taking Brandon Morrow's place on the Blue Jays' 40-man roster.
A top pitching prospect, one who the ball club is pinning some of its future hopes, takes the spot of a veteran who once was viewed as a future ace but who, to this point, hasn't realized his potential and may never.
Stroman threw his first major league pitch on Sunday, facing four Pirates' hitters in the eighth inning of a 7-2 win less than 48 hours after Morrow may have thrown his last pitch for Toronto. That is if Morrow requires season-ending surgery on a torn tendon sheath at the base of his right index finger.
Stroman's just beginning. Morrow is in the final guaranteed year of his contract and if, for a second consecutive year, his season has ended shortly after it started, it's hard to believe the cash-conscious Blue Jays would pick up the $10-million club option it holds on Morrow for 2015.
The 23-year-old Stroman, who's started at the Double-A and Triple-A levels dating back to last season, will begin his big league career in the bullpen.
It's an area in which Toronto needs help. Since the second game of an April 17 doubleheader in Minnesota, Blue Jays relievers have combined to allow 40 earned runs on 55 hits and 33 walks in 48 1/3 innings pitched. The bullpen has blown saves in six of the last 15 games.
It was a strange scene for Stroman. He arrived at the PNC Park and almost immediately was whisked into manager John Gibbons' office, where the skipper had called a meeting with his struggling relief corps.
The rookie was saying all the right things.
"I honestly think we have one of the best bullpens in baseball between guys like Sergio (Santos), Casey (Janssen), (Brett) Cecil, everyone that's in the pen dominates," said Stroman. "It's just a rough patch they're going through but I have no doubt in my mind that they'll get through it and get back to where they were last year."
Stroman is coming off his most dominant start of his professional career. On Tuesday in Buffalo, pitching against Louisville, he struck out 10 Bats' hitters and didn't allow a hit over six innings. During one stretch, Stroman retired 16-straight.
In five starts for the Bisons, Stroman has two wins, a 1.69 ERA, a 1.088 WHIP and 36 strikeouts in 26 2/3 innings. The WHIP is even more impressive when you consider Stroman has allowed almost a hit per inning. He's walked only six, a welcome walks per nine inning percentage for a staff whose 124 bases on balls is second most in the majors.
"Fastball command has definitely been a lot better; I've been keeping the ball down in the zone much better," said Stroman. "The development of my change has been huge and I just feel more comfortable, more settled in. That was my first big-league spring, I feel like I got ahead of myself sometimes, but I feel real comfortable, I feel like I'm ready to go out there and pitch well."
Stroman found out about his big league call up in an unusual way. The Bisons played an afternoon game on Saturday, which gave Stroman an opportunity to venture with his girlfriend to Niagara Falls for the evening.
He thinks he missed a call from Blue Jays farm director Charlie Wilson and when he did check his phone, the first message he picked up was a congratulatory one from his mother.
"She's been saying for a little bit, 'Oh, I've got a feeling,'" said Stroman. "I'm like, 'Mom, relax.'"
Stroman didn't sleep on Saturday night, he was excited, and he was out of bed by five o'clock on Sunday morning to meet the car service driving him from Buffalo to Pittsburgh.
"No sleep," he said. "But I feel wide awake."
Stroman's addition to the starting rotation seems like an eventuality but he's not going to dwell on his role.
"I'm just happy to be here," said Stroman. "I've had experience in the bullpen, I'm not worried about it, I feel like I can come in, that's something I've done before in the past and that's something I'm comfortable with, so it's not like it's completely new."