ATLANTA — After Marcus Stroman’s strong debut with the Cubs, pitching coach Tommy Hottovy talked about the right-hander’s desire to unlock an even better version of himself.
“A lot of his career has been really good for a long time,” Hottovy said earlier this month, “And he’s done a lot on athleticism, and I think there’s a whole ’nother dial there that I think can get turned up if he takes what he’s already really good at and is able to repeat that a lot more consistently, the sky’s the limit on what he can do.”
Since that first outing, Stroman (0-3) has been searching for a consistent rhythm in his last two starts. The Cubs’ 3-1 loss to the Braves on Tuesday was a step toward getting Stroman back to feeling in sync on the mound. And once he gets there, the Cubs can again talk about turning up the dial.
Stroman said he felt more in rhythm, but not quite where he wants to be. He allowed three runs (two earned), six hits, struck out three and walked none. The Cubs’ only run came on a solo homer from Ian Happ.
Manager David Ross zoned in on Stroman getting ahead in the count. In first time through the lineup, Stroman threw first-pitch strikes to six out of nine Braves batters.
“Really nice performance,” Ross said. “Thought he gave us a chance to win the ballgame. Looked like he was in control pretty much the whole game.”
The Braves would have done even less damage if it weren’t for a hard line drive to center field that Michael Hermosillo misplayed, caught in-between for a waist-high hop that got behind him. Dansby Swanson scored from first base, and Ozzie Albies, who hit the single, made it all the way to third.
Stroman again stifled the Braves’ momentum, retiring the next two batters in order. He struck out Matt Olson and induced a fly out from Austin Riley.
“He continued to pitch his game,” Ross said. “I think he’s done that pretty successfully so far. Just he hasn’t been where he wants to be. . . . Tonight, he just continues to make pitches, he seems very unfazed by the environment and the moment. He’s a guy who’s going to go out there and do his thing. And that’s something I love about him.”
In the sixth, the outfield defense helped Stroman secure a 1-2-3 frame in his final inning. Hermosillo ran into the wall on a long fly ball from Travis d’Arnaud, making the catch in a full-out sprint. Seiya Suzuki caught the last out of the inning against the Braves’ bullpen’s netting.
“Once I’m in sync then it allows me to do so much more, whether it be timing, whether it be more aggressive in the zone,” Stroman said. “So the biggest thing is definitely just being comfortable with my mechanics. If I’m out there for 100 pitches I want to be consistent on at least 80 to 90 percent of them. I don’t think I’m anywhere near that number right now.”
He is getting closer. That’s good news for the Cubs, who are relying on Stroman and veteran right-hander Kyle Hendricks to lead their rotation.
“I’m happy it went in that direction and not backward,” Stroman said. “So, definitely just work off that momentum and work with our guys here to get my body and my mechanics in the best position before [the] next start.”