Marcus Stroman wants the baseball in tough spots with an eye on pitching deep into games.
Monday night at Nationals Park didn’t play out how he envisioned.
Chicago Cubs manager David Ross admitted after the 5-4 loss that he probably pulled Stroman one batter too soon. Ross brought in reliever Mark Leiter Jr. with two outs in the fifth to face Washington Nationals slugger Nelson Cruz. Two pitches later, Cruz connected on Leiter’s elevated sinker for a two-run double to put the Nationals ahead.
The Cubs tied it in the seventh on Seiya Suzuki’s RBI single but lost after Cruz homered off reliever Brandon Hughes in the eighth.
In his last seven starts since the beginning of July, Stroman owns a 2.21 ERA.
“I felt strong, so in that situation my biggest job is just to hand the ball off and to go in the dugout,” Stroman said. “In those situations, I’ve been blasted in the past for wanting to stay in — I’ve been blasted in the past for any situation. So I just try to keep my mouth shut and do everything I can while I’m out there, and then when he comes to get me, my job is done.”
It’s not often a manager admits to prematurely removing a starting pitcher. The more common refrain centers on letting a starter stay in too long and getting burned. Stroman’s track record suggests he deserves an opportunity to work through a jam, especially when he was pitching well on a night the Cubs defense let him down.
Third baseman Zach McKinstry’s throwing error to begin the fifth sparked the Nationals’ four-run inning, all of which were unearned runs attributed to Stroman.
“He was throwing the ball really well,” Ross said. “We didn’t play good defense there that last inning.”
Ross approached Stroman after the game to let him know directly that he wished he had left the right-hander in the game. Stroman appreciated those words from his manager.
“It’s huge — obviously I want to be in in the moment,” Stroman said. “But the fact that he identified and let me know right after the game, that just shows who Ross is. I love Rossy. Rossy’s the man. I have a lot of respect for that man.”
Even though he is in his third season, Ross still is learning on the job as a first-time manager and growing into the role. This is the time to learn and adjust from in-game decisions such as Monday’s when wins and losses don’t affect postseason hopes.
In future seasons — perhaps as soon as next year — a move that backfires in a meaningful game would put Ross under greater scrutiny.
“He has great feel for the game of baseball,” Stroman said. “Sometimes it’s going to be taken out of his hands as far as where the game’s going and not facing lineups three times through and all that, but you have to go on eye tests and go on feel and I think Ross has a ton of feel.”