Pedro Strop knows what it’s like to be the lightning rod and get booed inside your own stadium. Jose Veras is going through it now at Wrigley Field.
The Baltimore Orioles watched Strop go from a dominant setup guy in the American League East to a reliever who looked completely lost last season. The crowds at Camden Yards turned on Strop (7.25 ERA), who had been such an important piece to the 2012 team that won 93 games and made a surprising playoff run.
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Strop reinvented himself after getting traded to the Cubs last summer (2.83 ERA), and could get a shot at closing now that Veras is buried in the bullpen. Strop worked the ninth inning in Monday night’s 5-1 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks, using his wipeout slider and mid-90s velocity and throwing a pitch behind Miguel Montero.
Strop and Veras are good friends who played together on the entertaining Dominican Republic team that won last year’s World Baseball Classic.
“He’s kind of lost right now, mentally, but he’s a tough guy,” Strop said. “He’s gotten through a lot of stuff in his career. So I’m pretty sure he’s going to step up. Like I tell him: ‘It’s just a bump in the road.’ I started the season last year just like him. It’s something where you cannot try to (overthink) stuff.
“Just simplify (everything). Do your routine, do the little things and keep grinding. It’s going to come, because he’s got some (expletive). He’s a hard worker and he’s a great guy. I’m pretty sure he’s going to be back and he’s going to help us.”
Nothing looks easy for Veras, who blew two saves and lost the closer’s job 10 games into the season (or twice as long as it took ex-manager Dale Sveum to yank Carlos Marmol last year). Veras went nine days in between appearances and now has a 15.43 ERA with nine walks and three hit batters in 4.2 innings.
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Strop wears a crooked hat and enjoys dancing to the music in the clubhouse. He pounded his chest and saluted catcher Welington Castillo after getting the final out late Monday night. He’s an emotional, high-energy player who’s learned how to block out all the noise.
“I know how to separate my job and my family and my teammates,” Strop said. “Whenever things happen in baseball, I will separate and be the same guy with my teammates and the same guy with my family when I’m home with my kids. My mind’s free.
“I’m a really happy guy. I’ve always separated that stuff. When I’m here, I’m a teammate. When I’m at home, I’m a dad and a husband. When I’m pitching out there, I’m a soldier.”
Strop laughed at that last line and sounded like someone who’s ready to handle the ninth inning in front of 40,000 fans.