HOUSTON – Any time Marcus Stroman is approached to discuss the successful start to his big league career, he's quick to credit two veteran teammates with helping his transition into the Blue Jays' clubhouse.
He's talked about how Jose Bautista will approach him, even during his outings, to discuss how best to attack hitters. Stroman feeds off the advice, learning how big leaguers quickly make adjustments.
Stroman also credits Mark Buehrle. The two talk pitching, naturally, but Buehrle has taken Stroman under his wing in other areas too. Most importantly is how to be a good rookie.
"I think he's been doing the dumbest stuff and I've had to call him out," said Buehrle. "I think the majority of stuff, pitching wise, I'm not going to sit there and take credit for anything. We've talked a few times about little things but I think the biggest thing that I've tried to direct him and I tell every young guy that comes up, I say listen, I was a rookie, got picked on, I didn't like it. You're going to get picked on, you're going to have to get your stuff done to you but if you have a question about where you need to be, what you need to wear, what you need to do, any of those questions come ask me and I'm going to lead you in the right direction."
Buehrle is glad to help because he experienced the other side of it. As a rookie with the White Sox in 2000, he asked veteran pitcher James Baldwin a rights-of-passage question and was intentionally misled, which resulted in Buehrle becoming the brunt of more jokes.
"I've always felt embarrassed and shy, I didn't enjoy it as much my first couple of years because I had no clue what to do and I asked the wrong guy and I'm told to do the wrong stuff just to get picked on even more," said Buehrle.
Last month in Anaheim as a bus was waiting to transport players to Angel Stadium, Stroman arrived in the lobby of the hotel wearing a pair of shorts. Josh Thole stopped him, Buehrle clarified the situation with the young pitcher, and Stroman went back to change into a pair of pants.
Buehrle knows Stroman wasn't coming from a bad place.
"He didn't even think, 'I can't wear shorts to the field.' At home you can but on the road it's one of those rules, I guess it started when I was told no tennis shoes, no shorts, no hats," said Buehrle. "I'm just trying to pass on to the young guys and the guys on the pitching staff that hey, these are the rules when I came up, I feel they're pretty good rules and they should continue. I don't think we're asking too much."
Buehrle got roughed up in his July 25 outing at Yankee Stadium, his shortest start in more than four years. His night was over and as he sat in the dugout, he caught Stroman in the middle of another baseball no-no.
"I got my ass handed to me in the third inning, sitting there and I got taken out," said Buehrle. "I look over and I see him with a drink and a bag of chips in his hand, sitting there eating it. I wasn't really in the mood to tell him what to do, what not to do but I went over, 'Hey dude, you can't be having a bag of chips here on the bench.'"
When a ballclub is on the road, there are two buses which take players from the hotel to the stadium. The veterans get the second bus unless they need to arrive at the ballpark early. Rookies are told to be first to work; to take the first bus.
Stroman is diligent worker, always on time.
"The pitching stuff, him working out, him doing whatever, I think he does a pretty good job at that, he doesn't really need to get talked to," said Buehrle. "Obviously he's got the talent and the stuff there but the other stuff, the rookie mistake stuff, I'm there to direct him in the right direction."
In spring training, Buehrle and Stroman were in the same practice group. One morning, the group went to the wrong diamond to begin the day. The result: a missed drill. The veterans teased Stroman, blaming him for the mishap. It wasn't his fault, just good-natured ribbing, but Buehrle told Stroman it was up to the youngster to know the schedule and lead the older guys to the right spots.
"He came up to me, 'Hey, we've got to be on Field Two, then we go to Field Three' so he kind of told me where we need to be," said Buehrle.
Stroman's got his own style. Follow him on Twitter and you'll often see photos of his latest suit, bowtie, a pair of shoes he's just purchased.
"We've worn him out," said Buehrle. "In New York he wore those bright shoes and (we told him) 'Hey, make sure you're not focusing on those shoes, make sure you're focusing on pitching.'"
Stroman, according to Buehrle, hasn't worn the shoes since.
"He likes flashy stuff. I'm not going to talk him out of it. I think it's too much because I'm not that way but some guys need that to succeed," said Buehrle.
About the suits: Stroman was over the moon in New York after Buehrle took him, Todd Redmond, Rob Rasmussen, Aaron Sanchez and Ryan Goins to an exclusive shop for a suit fitting. Call it tradition, Buehrle passing on to others what Ken Griffey Jr. once did for him in Chicago.
He clearly would have preferred the suit story not be made public. Buehrle never seeks additional attention.
"It was a sign that hey, I'm asking you to do some rookie stuff and you're doing it and you're being a sport about it and you're going about it the right way then this is kind of a thank you for being a good sport about it," said Buehrle.
He sees a bright future for the Blue Jays on the mound. Buehrle is a believer in each of Stroman, Aaron Sanchez and Drew Hutchison.
"I'd give my left arm to take some of their talents and what they're throwing now," said Buehrle. "That's what I've said with this whole trade deadline thing brought up, I don't know what teams were asking for but if it's one of those guys it's tough to get rid of because that's going to be the face of your franchise."
Stroman's confident. He's got swagger. Maybe there'll come a time when it rubs an opposing hitter or team the wrong way.
But the last word about Stroman goes to Buehrle, a pretty good judge of character.
"He's a good kid."