TORONTO — Blue Jays rookie Marcus Stroman always wanted a sinker in his pitching repertoire but he could never find a grip to his liking.
That all changed a couple months ago when he finally found something that worked.
“I was just fooling around with the ball and just gripped a two-seam kind of awkwardly and it was super-comfortable in my hand,” Stroman said. “The next day I came to the ballpark and started throwing it. Ever since then, I’ve been throwing it.”
That sinker has become one of his go-to weapons and it was on full display Monday as Stroman threw his first career complete-game shutout in an 8-0 rout of the Chicago Cubs. Stroman (10-5) allowed only three hits and struck out eight in the opener of a three-game series at Rogers Centre.
“It doesn’t get any better than that,” said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons. “It really starts, you know, he’s commanding that fastball, I thought his breaking ball for a couple games kind of deserted him a little bit but it was back there tonight … it was a dominating performance.”
Stroman, who threw 66 of his 93 pitches for strikes, became the first Toronto rookie to win 10 games since Ricky Romero won 13 games in 2009.
Jose Bautista hit a three-run homer in the fifth inning as eight different Blue Jays scored a run apiece. Bautista’s no-doubt blast was his 32nd homer of the season and 200th of his Blue Jays career.
“I’m very proud and honoured to have done it here,” Bautista said. “I’m just really happy but I think I’m going to enjoy this one — again, just like I always say with personal goals — more in the off-season than anything.
“We have a bigger goal that we’re focused on right now and that’s trying to make the playoffs.”
Toronto (74-69) started the day five games out of a wild-card spot. Jacob Turner (5-9) shouldered the loss for Chicago (64-80), losers of four straight.
Stroman gave up a single to Jorge Soler in the second inning and retired 19 straight before allowing a single to Mike Olt in the eighth.
“It was awesome, it was fun,” Stroman said. “Me and (catcher Dioner Navarro) were on a pretty good roll, I had all my pitches working, locating pretty good and I was down in the zone.”
Navarro, Adam Lind and Kevin Pillar had two hits apiece for the Blue Jays, who outhit Chicago 12-3. Stroman’s performance was the first complete-game shutout since Drew Hutchison’s win over the Texas Rangers on May 16.
“Stroman was very, very good,” said Cubs manager Rick Renteria. “Very aggressive, attacked the strike zone, first-pitch strikes were very high with him. Good life to his pitches, threw very, very well. He did a great job.”
Stroman was given a scare after throwing his second pitch of the night. Leadoff man Chris Coghlan lashed a fastball back to the mound that just missed Stroman’s head.
The ball deflected off his glove and bounced to shortstop Jose Reyes, who made the throw to first in time. Stroman came up smiling after dusting himself off and went on to retire the side in order.
“That was the first time I’ve ever had a ball hit like that back at me,” Stroman said. “Praise the Lord I got out of the way. Just pure reaction. It ended up being a (complete game), I could have been out after the second pitch of the game.”
Stroman showed his athleticism in the third inning. Logan Watkins hit a slow grounder near the mound that Stroman backhanded before turning in the air and making an off-balance throw that was just in time for the out.
Toronto scratched out a run in the second inning and added another in the fourth when Edwin Encarnacion led off with a single before moving to third on Lind’s flare to right field.
Navarro hit a sacrifice fly to deep centre field that easily scored Encarnacion.
In the fifth, Ryan Goins and Anthony Gose reached on back-to-back singles before Bautista turned on a 2-1 pitch that landed in the second deck.
“He’s on some kind of roll but you guys have all seen that before,” Gibbons told reporters. “He’s one of the top hitters in the game. I mean he’s been that way for a few years now.”
The Blue Jays scored a single run in the seventh inning and added two more insurance runs in the eighth. Announced attendance was 16,879 and the game took two hours 20 minutes to play.