Marcus Stroman won't let doubters stop him from being elite

Marcus Stroman's ERA has dropped to 5.33 this season. Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports

Marcus Stroman is having the worst statistical season of his brief career. Coming off an injury-abbreviated 2015 in which he went 4-0 with a 1.67 ERA and helped the Toronto Blue Jays into the playoffs, Stroman was pegged as one of this year's most exciting, young starting pitchers. Instead, the 25-year-old Duke graduate has one of the highest ERAs and WHIPs among major league starters. He knows it's impossible to hide from his failures -- and the whispers that his work is deserving of a trip to the minors. "I will never second-guess myself," he says. "I always trust I'll be able to endure tough times because I never get lazy. I'm relentless." While Stroman's struggles have created much doubt among online commenters, the New York native has heard it before. Here, he opens up about his haters, his teammates, his comeback from a devastating knee injury last season and his father, Earl -- the man who prepared him for moments like this.

I read it all.

I see everything anyone says about me. I read the blogs. I read the tweets. That's fuel. That's motivation. I see people say I should be sent to [Triple-A] Buffalo, that I should be in the bullpen, that I shouldn't be in the majors. Those are the same people who said I shouldn't have played college baseball at Duke. They're the ones who said I'm 5-foot-8 and that I was too short to be a starting pitcher. Now I'm struggling, and I'm hearing it all again.

Fine. I like to have those doubters in my life.

I went through it last year when I tore my ACL. I was in the doctor's office. The trainer was with me. The doctor felt around my knee. He just shook his head and said, It's torn. I was crushed. I sat there for a couple of minutes and collected myself. I knew my mindset. I was coming back. I called my mom. I called my dad. I called my best friend. They were devastated. I hung up, collected myself again. I called my mom again. I said: "Call Duke, I'm going back to school."

When I got there, I told the doctors in North Carolina that I wanted to be back by playoff time. There were no promises, but we were going to attack. It was relentless: Wake up at 8 a.m., foam-roll, stretch, breakfast. I'd go to my first workout. Hour-and-a-half to two hours. Pool work. Ball stuff. Strengthening the knee. Everything was intense. I'd go back to the apartment, go to class for two hours. I'd do another two-hour workout with my other trainer. Crush it. After that, it was back to the house, eat dinner and go to night class. Six days a week. And then I'd get up and do it again.

That attitude comes from my dad. He's a police detective. He's about my height, real stocky. My parents divorced when I was in the fifth grade, but he moved just a mile away. My dad knew I was going to be undersized. He preached to me that I had to play with a chip on my shoulder. I had to have confidence in myself when other people might not. That became my way of thinking: always to turn a negative into a positive. Work as hard as possible. Most importantly, enjoy it all. Like Drake said: If I'm not having fun with it, I'm done with it. It's true.

"I go through those tweets. I have to deal with it. When you're struggling, everything's under a magnifying glass." Marcus Stroman

My dad saw the talent in me, but he knew if I was going to make it, I needed to have the drive. I wasn't going to get by on physical stature. We didn't get along well in the early years because he was so hard on me. He wanted me to be great. I wasn't the kid outside playing with friends. I was working out. I was in the gym. I was practicing. I was 6 years old, 7, 8, 9, 10. I was at the track, running with parachutes, running hills. I'd be out there when high school varsity teams were practicing. If I wasn't doing that, then I was on the field throwing, taking ground balls, taking swings, shooting baskets, throwing the football. Then I was at home doing work. When I was done, I'd do more work. My dad wanted me to be ahead. He'd give me the newspaper and make me read articles and help me with reading comprehension. I'd read the articles, and he'd question me. My dad was preparing me mentally, in every way. I've got a tattoo on my wrist now. It says, Daddy's Gift.

That work helped when I've faced adversity. I'll never have to go through anything harder than when I was rehabbing that knee. I came back in five-and-a-half months from a completely torn ACL on my landing leg. Think about that. We weren't going at it at a normal nine- to 12-month pace. In five-and-a-half months, I made it back to a big league game. Sept. 12. It's not like I was just rehabbing, either. I was overloading on classes. I got my degree from Duke. All the pieces fell perfectly. Now that I look back, it couldn't have gone better. Nothing went wrong for me that entire summer.

Now I'm struggling.

This game can consume you. It can eat at you. I've learned that. I'm going through it. Coming off a bad game, I'm frustrated because of the work I put in. But the wheels are already turning as to what I can do better in my next outing. I'm at the field from 2 to 11 every single day. I'm training. I'm working on my delivery, working on my mechanics, on my pitches. I get in the video room and see where my delivery was. I make small adjustments to get back on top of my sinkerball. I'm always thinking, always trying to better my game. Dawg, there's no one that's going to work harder than me.

It's impossible to escape the criticism. I go through those tweets. I have to deal with it. When you're struggling, everything's under a magnifying glass. I'm not going to overthink and make the rest of my life unhappy. People doubt me and say I shouldn't be in the position where I am. I hear the noise.

What drives me is seeing what Clayton Kershaw is doing, what Jake Arrieta is doing. I want to be there. I want to be the best in the game. I want to be a perennial All-Star. I want to take my team to the World Series. I want to be the staple, the ace you can count on every fifth game to get a win. The guy who you can count on to take you to the playoffs every year. I don't play this game to be mediocre. I don't coast. I'm not average. Average isn't gratifying. I never want to get comfortable. Mediocrity scares me. You don't train as hard as you can to be fine with OK results. I don't play this game just to play.

Baseball excites me. I want to fully reach my potential, and I don't think I'm close to that yet. I'm a starter. I've shown I can be a dominant starter. My value is as a starter. I believe in that. I want to go six, seven, eight, nine innings. I was in the pen in 2014, struggled, and was sent down. People said the same things they're saying now: He can't pitch. He's too short. His fastball's too flat. I went down two weeks and came up, found a sinker somewhere in there. I'm still learning. I'm still growing in this process. I'm aware of that. I'm going to struggle at times, but those struggles won't last.

Yes, I could end up in Buffalo. Do I think I belong in Buffalo? Not at all. If the Blue Jays think I need to be there, that's their decision. I'm in a good place mentally and physically. Things are going to turn around. I'm not the only believer. Everyone in my clubhouse believes that. Coaches believe that. Teammates believe that.

There are these little key notes I get from the guys, little points. I'm on the perfect team. I have unbelievable talks with Buehrle, LaTroy Hawkins, Estrada, Bautista, Donaldson, Tulo, Martin. I have the best group of guys to learn from. I'm thankful for that. Jose Bautista took me under his wing from the second I got to the majors. He's my mentor. I've learned so much from him. He's a guy who's been there for me. He saw when I was going through this rough patch. People in the clubhouse have faith in me every time I'm on the mound. These are All-Stars telling me this. They've been there for me through the good and even more through the bad. They know how driven I am. They say, "Stro, this is temporary." I have to be able to deal with this if I want to be elite. There's been a low point for every player. There's been a challenge they've had to get through. My teammates are throwing confidence on me and letting me know I'm still the guy. I'm faltering a little bit, but they're still going to rock with me.

At the end of the day, I'm lucky. My life is amazing. That's why I can deal with this. I've had success in the majors. I've gone nine innings. I've gone eight. I've pitched in the playoffs. I know it's there. It's just disconnected for a bit. But this little disconnection is going to create a stronger individual. I'm a confident, hard-working visionary with big dreams for my friends, family and myself. Baseball is my passion. I know mentally, physically, emotionally, I'm stronger than most. I can get through anything.