Marcus Stroman uses grounders, not strikeouts, to tame Rays’ bats on Opening Day

AP Photo/Chris O'Meara

Rays starter Chris Archer drew most of the attention during Sunday’s Opening Day contest, helping set a new franchise record for strikeouts, but it was Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman who had the last laugh.

Stroman pitched into the ninth inning, yielding three runs on six hits and a walk with five strikeouts. The right-hander allowed 21 total balls in play, 17 of which were of the ground ball variety, or 81 percent. To put that in perspective, Brett Anderson led qualified starters in ground ball rate last season at 66.3 percent. Obviously, one game is a tremendously small sample size.

The ground balls are nothing new for Stroman. In 157 2/3 career innings in the majors entering the 2016 season, he had induced grounders at a 55.6 percent clip along with a 20 percent strikeout rate. As Stroman lost most of last season due to a torn ACL, the soon-to-be 25-year-old is a popular breakout pick for this season.

During Sunday’s outing, Stroman had held the Rays to a lone run in the first eight innings. He went for the complete game, but allowed a leadoff home run to Corey Dickerson and a single to Desmond Jennings before being replaced by Roberto Osuna. Osuna allowed Jennings to score, with the run being charged to Stroman. He was eventually able to close things out for the 5-3 win.

Anthony Volpe, 21, wins Yankees’ starting shortstop job

Dave Nelson-USA TODAY Sp

TAMPA, Fla. — Anthony Volpe grew up watching Derek Jeter star at shortstop for the New York Yankees.

Now, the 21-year-old is getting the chance to be the Yankees’ opening day shortstop against the San Francisco Giants.

The team announced after a 6-2 win over Toronto in spring training that Volpe had won the spot. New York manager Aaron Boone called the kid into his office to deliver the news.

“My heart was beating pretty hard,” said Volpe, rated one of baseball’s best prospects. “Incredible. I’m just so excited. It’s hard for me to even put into words.”

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, hitting coach Dillon Lawson and bench coach Carlos Mendoza were also present.

Volpe was able to share the news with his parents and other family members near the Yankees’ dugout and said it is something he will never forget.

“It was pretty emotional,” Volpe said. “It was just an unbelievable moment to share with them.”

Volpe, who grew up a Yankees fan, lived in Manhattan as a child before moving to New Jersey. Jeter was his favorite player.

“It’s very surreal,” Volpe said. “I’ve only ever been to games at Yankee Stadium and for the most part only watched him play there.”

Volpe is hitting .314 with three homers, five RBIs and a .417 on-base percentage in 17 Grapefruit League games. He has just 22 games of experience at Triple-A.

Spring training started with Volpe, Oswald Peraza and holdover Isiah Kiner-Falefa competing for the everyday shortstop job. Kiner-Falefa was shifted into a utility role midway through camp, and Peraza was optioned to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Sunday evening.

“While certainly the performance was there, he killed it between the lines,” Boone said of Volpe. “All the other things that we’ve been hearing about showed up. There’s an energy he plays the game with, and an instinct that he has that is evident. He really checked every box that we could have had for him. Absolutely kicked the door in and earned his opportunity.”

Volpe arrived in Florida in December to work out at the Yankees’ minor league complex.

“He’s earned the right to take that spot, and we’re excited for him and excited for us,” Cashman said. “He just dominated all sides of the ball during February and March, and that bodes well obviously for him as we move forward.”

Volpe was selected out of high school with the 30th overall pick in the 2019 draft from Delbarton School in New Jersey. He passed up a college commitment to Vanderbilt to sign with the Yankees.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get into the organization,” Volpe said. “This day, this feeling, this moment was kind of what I’ve worked my whole life for when I made that big decision.”

“Right now it’s crazy,” he added. “I don’t even know what lies ahead but Thursday I just want to go out and play, and have fun.”