CHICAGO — Marcus Stroman won over his Wrigley Field audience before ever taking the mound. When he emerged from the bullpen door Sunday, jersey untucked and slapping his right hand on his chest, the crowd gave its loudest roar of the pregame rituals.
He won over Cubs fans with his contract-confirming tweet 5:52 p.m. CT on Dec. 1 that simply read, “CHICAGO!” Stroman won them over with his ticket giveaways on social media, his selfies with the club’s Minors Leaguers this spring and all the talk about the vibes and energy he expected to bring and experience in his new uniform.
And Cubs fans officially won Stroman over, too.
“The way everyone talked about playing at Wrigley,” Stroman said, “it’s definitely true, and probably even more incredible.”
The end result Sunday was not what the Cubs wanted — taking a 5-4 loss at the hands of the rival Brewers to close out the season-opening series — but Stroman put on his first show. He worked five solid innings and felt he could have stayed on the mound even longer.
In the same breath, Stroman expressed the respect he has for manager David Ross, who is carefully navigating the early part of a 162-game slate, following a shortened spring. Ross cut the “Stro Show” short at 79 pitches, while Chicago still had a 3-1 advantage.
It marked the first career appearance at the Friendly Confines for Stroman, who signed a three-year, $71 million deal with the Cubs in December minutes before the offseason lockout. He finally checked that box off his career to-do list.
“I had chills from the second I went out there,” Stroman said. “That’s something that — to feel that authenticity and that fan base — it’s something that I’ve wanted my entire career.”
Over his five innings of work, Stroman struck out three, walked three and limited the Brewers to a Willy Adames solo home run in the third inning. Stroman generated nine groundouts and started a highlight-reel double play after catching an Omar Narváez liner to the mound in the fourth.
On that play, Stroman gloved the comebacker, hustled toward first and completed a strong underhand toss to first baseman Alfonso Rivas. Stroman flexed his arms and ran off the field, stopping to shake catcher Yan Gomes’ hand before they headed into the dugout.
“That was as advertised, man,” Gomes said of Stroman. “All in all, we know he’s going to go out there and give us his best stuff he’s got. He’s going to compete from Pitch 1 to his last pitch. You kind of saw that from him.”
Stroman admittedly was not at his best in the outing, as he has been searching for a rhythm in his delivery since the spring. Gomes said they lost command of the sinker in spurts, but he noted that Stroman was able to lean on his other pitches (the slider, in particular) while regaining control of the fastball.
The slider, which Stroman deployed 20 times in the outing, is a pitch the righty has been honing with the Cubs’ pitching group. Pitching coach Tommy Hottovy likened Stroman’s use of that pitch to Yu Darvish, who can manipulate the slider for different shapes and speeds.
“There’s going to be ways to add and subtract with the slider,” Hottovy explained. “There’s variations. You may end up at the end of the season looking at sliders online and seeing very distinct movement patterns.”
That will be something to monitor as Stroman continues on in his first season with the Cubs.
He is also happy to have his first Wrigley Field experience in the books. Stroman said the energy at the start of the game was almost “overwhelming” for him. It showed on the mound, too. His fastballs were roughly 1.5 mph faster in the first inning when compared to his yearly average, per Statcast.
Stroman said that was just him amped up in his new environment.
“To have that behind you, that’s hard to put into words,” he said. “That’s not uniform around the league to have that home-field advantage from the crowd, to feel that energy each and every time.
“That’s super rare in baseball. I don’t know if you guys know that. You guys are spoiled with this crowd. I’m excited for each and every game.”