The Cubs activated the right-hander from the injured list before Friday’s series opener in Arizona and optioned right-hander Daniel Palencia to Triple-A Iowa.
Stroman will be used out of the bullpen — at least for now — as he continues to build up. He threw three innings and about 45 pitches in his last live batting practice Monday at the team’s complex in Mesa, Ariz.
Stroman entered in the bottom of the seventh inning in Friday’s 6-4 loss and threw two shutout innings in relief. He struck out three, walked one and allowed one hit in his first big-league game since July 31. His outing represented one of the only bright spots in an otherwise bad loss for the Cubs (78-70).
“I want them to be able to use me in whatever role and help the team, not necessarily force me into starting rotation,” Stroman said pregame Friday. “I know I can start and contribute in that way. I’m going to be a starter for the rest of my career. But in this instance, I don’t want to push anyone out. I want it to blend and mix and use me to my best ability.”
A week after suffering a right rib cartilage fracture Aug. 13 in Toronto, Stroman received a cortisone shot. He kept throwing through the rest and recovery process to stay strong. Stroman said his arm and shoulder feel great.
”It’s just a matter of getting my ribs and lungs to the point where I could breathe properly and it wasn’t nagging me when I slept,” Stroman said. “I feel like I made a really quick progression and I’m thankful to be where I’m at.
“They can use me in whatever role they want, but I feel ready to compete and contribute so that’s the mindset.”
Stroman went on the 15-day injured list Aug. 1 with right hip inflammation and was supposed to return Aug. 16.
When asked if he’s pain-free, Stroman said: “I’m good to go.”
Stroman’s only major-league experience pitching in relief came in six games during his 2014 rookie season with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Despite the long layoff from game action, Stroman said the key to being ready to return is when it “clicks” on the mound. Stroman texted pitching coach Tommy Hottovy and the training staff this week, saying “I’m ready to contribute.” His willingness to return in a relief role is another indictor of how much the clubhouse wants to win and get to the postseason, Hottovy said.
The Cubs debated whether Stroman needed a rehab assignment before coming off the IL, but Hottovy said they felt comfortable they could find spots to initially use Stroman in which he could get his feet wet. The Cubs were pleased by the shapes of his pitches, especially his slider and sinker, and how they moved in his two live BPs. His fastball velocity sat between 88-90 mph, which is the norm of typically being a little lower during nongame pitching environments.
“If there’s anybody that’s in tune with his body, it’s Stro,” Hottovy said. “He knows exactly how he feels, what he can do, what he can’t do, so you just trust those guys through that process. And then you see how how much we could push it and he was able to handle a lot of the workload and the bullpens and everything. My anxiety definitely got eased as we started seeing him go out there and put the work in.”
Stroman gives the Cubs length in the bullpen for a group that desperately needed Thursday’s off day after playing 27 games in 27 days.
“The more good players we can have on the team to help out — Marcus has a proven track record and getting him back was an important step,” manager David Ross said. “He’s a guy that is not going to shy away from the moment. Loves the big moment. He’s been in every situation he can possibly be in being a starter.
“You’ve got to trust in your guys and he’s one that we trust.”
There was no guarantee Stroman would return before the end of the regular season given the unique injury for a pitcher. He was told it likely would require he rest for four to six weeks and would then need to build up. This isn’t the first time has defied recovery odds. In 2015, Stroman came back in less than six months from an ACL surgery to pitch for the Blue Jays.
“I’m very in-tune with my body and I do everything to preserve the longevity, like, I want to feel good until I’m 70, 80, 90 years old, so I’m always conscious of doing everything I can to put my body in tip-top shape,” Stroman said. “I feel like after my ACL I learned how to take care of my body and I learned that I’ve recovered pretty well.”