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How Marcus Stroman’s unique approach to game prep helps him lock in mentally

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SAN FRANCISCO – Tucker Barnhart has never caught a pitcher who prepares like Marcus Stroman and puts his fate so squarely in his catcher’s hands. And Barnhart’s been in the big-leagues for almost a decade. 

“I put a lot of trust in my catchers,” Stroman said in a conversation with the Sun-Times. “ I don’t even I don’t game plan. I don’t look at lineups. I know who I am as a pitcher, so I just pitch to my strengths. And the catcher’s essentially read swings, and then they’re doing their game plan.”

Stroman knows how that sounds, and that being open about it will draw criticism any time he pitches poorly. But the results back up his conviction in his routine. And the Cubs have seen how letting Stroman do things his way – from celebrations on the mound that have inspired pearl-clutching from the “unwritten rules” crowd, to scouting-report-less preparation – has brought out the best in him. 

“I know how to prepare, and I know how to compete,” Stroman said. “And I used to sit there sometimes before games and just go through lineups. And I feel like it just used to create doubt in my head about, ‘Oh, you can’t do this to this guy,’ or, ‘He’s hot on this,’ or ‘He’s doing this.’ I’m not someone who’s good with doubt. I want to pitch at 100% confidence.

“I don’t want to have a single ounce of doubt when I’m on the mound,” he said. “So, just something that works for me. Obviously, there’s guys who are the complete opposite.”

This isn’t the first time Stroman has thrown out opposing lineups. Literally. He said he got to the point in Toronto where he’d pick the sheet off his chair and immediately toss it. 

When he got to the Cubs last year, however, he was curious about the predictive GPS model they had and started diving into scouting reports. He started using his four-seam fastball more and losing the shape of his sinker, his bread-and-butter pitch. And he started getting hung up on exploiting hitters’ weaknesses instead of relying on his strengths. 

Since he returned from the IL last July, he said, he hasn’t looked at an opposing lineup. 

Other factors played into Stroman’s second half success last year. He and pitching coach Tommy Hottovy identified a checkpoint that snapped his mechanics into place. He got the feel for his sinker back and leaned on the pitch. 

Ignoring lineups in his preparation was part of a mental adjustment. 

“To say he doesn’t game plan is like, yes, we don’t sit and meet about every single hitter before the game,” Hottovy said. “He’s got a good idea of what he wants to do for every hitter he’s facing. But the best part, what I love about that, is he knows what makes him successful.”

Stroman is still doing things like reading swings in game. But he wants to avoid overthinking on the mound. He couldn’t think of a time he’d shaken off a sign from his catchers all year – maybe once? He didn’t shake off Barnhart at all in his complete game shutout a week and a half ago. 

“It’s fun,” Barnhart said. “And just puts the trust in us, and makes you feel good to be honest.”

Barnhart doesn’t discourage shaking off signs. On the contrary, he’s caught pitchers on both sides of the spectrum throughout his career. There’s a truism in baseball that it’s better for a pitcher to throw the pitch that he feels convicted in than one the catcher is.

It’s best when it’s the same pitch. 

“If you’re seeing the same things that the pitcher is seeing,” Barnhart said, “and they’re confident that you’re prepared, I think that the flow of the game provides a comfort to the guy that’s on the mound, for sure.”



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