CHICAGO — Marcus Stroman called it his flow state. When the Cubs pitcher has his delivery mechanics working right and everything feels in sync, the last thing he is doing on the mound is thinking. It is all rhythm and flow.
“Exactly. I don’t like to think at all when I’m out there,” Stroman said. “And I’m thinking way too much at this point.”
On a cold and wet Wednesday night, Stroman spent parts of five innings searching for that flow state in a rain-shortened, 8-2 loss to the Rays at Wrigley Field. The starter matched a career high with seven earned runs allowed in his second rough outing in a row.
Stroman had plenty of opportunities to lean on excuses. Against Tampa Bay, the Cubs’ defense made three errors behind him and the conditions were windy, rainy and frigid. Last time out, Stroman had to contend with the high-altitude environment at Coors Field.
“He’s accountable for his performance and understands it has to be better,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “The accountability thing is No. 1 on my radar. When you see players be accountable for their performance — good or bad — it’s super exciting to see.”
Between Stroman’s final inning on Friday and his first frame on Wednesday, he allowed a combined nine runs on four hits (two homers) with three strikeouts and three walks. The right-hander needed 73 pitches to get through those two innings.
The rest of his work in these last two appearances for the Cubs were essentially a quality start: 6 1/3 innings with three earned runs (four overall) allowed. In that sample, Stroman gave up eight hits, struck out eight and issued zero walks.
Maybe that is cherry picking, but what it shows is that Stroman had a pair of in-game collapses that overshadowed effectiveness in the majority of his outings. That is a sign of a pitcher still searching for rhythm, which can in turn create consistency.
“Every pitch essentially feels like I’m doing something different mechanically,” Stroman said. “It kind of comes and goes in stretches. I feel great for an inning or a few batters and then I kind of just lose it. It’s frustrating. It’s beyond frustrating.
“I need to get to a mirror right now. The second I leave here, I’ll be doing some dry work and anything I can to put myself in a better position before my next start.”
The most glaring issue of late has been Stroman’s sinker command.
Against the Rays, Stroman fired 24 sinkers against a lineup featuring eight left-handed batters. He consistently was missing “arm side,” meaning outside against a lefty. That made the rest of Stroman’s repertoire less effective.
“It all comes back to mechanics, for me, honestly. It’s not there yet,” Stroman said. “The sinker’s not established. If that’s not established, I kind of feel like I lose it in spurts. I feel great for six or seven pitches, and then I lose it for 10 or 15.
“I’m usually great at making adjustments in-game and I just can’t find it right now. It’s just a struggle.”
Over the course of his 4 1/3 innings, Stroman did look like he found a better feel as his pitch count climbed to 88 on the evening. He leaned on his splitter (24 pitches), generating five whiffs with that pitch. The righty had 12 whiffs overall and ended with seven strikeouts. Stroman also made a slick behind-the-back snag of a sharp comebacker off Wander Franco’s bat in the fourth.
Ross noted that, while Stroman labored to control his sinker away, the pitcher did find opportunistic times to fire his four-seamer. The manager noted that one, in particular, to Ji-Man Choi stood out. In the third, Stroman spotted a four-seamer low-and-away for a called strikeout against the Rays first baseman.
“It looked like he was starting to get behind the baseball a little more,” Ross said.
The Cubs brought Stroman into the fold over the offseason via a three-year, $71 million contract. Since he joined, teammates have raved about his influence and energy, and Ross has praised the pitcher’s impact in the clubhouse.
Beyond those behind-the-scenes components that the Cubs have enjoyed so far, the team added Stroman above all else to be a focal point atop the rotation. The pitcher is confident that he will be able to get back on track and swiftly find that flow state.
“It’s two bad starts. That’s all it is,” Stroman said. “I’m not someone to dwell. I’m going to do everything I can to work on things and improve, as I would do if I had a great start. I’m always adapting and changing.
“I’m a realist. This is not half a bad season. This is two bad starts. I’m going to keep it at that and keep moving forward.”