Originally published by DodgerBlue.com
With Clayton Kershaw and Alex Wood both on the inured list, and Walker Buehler still working on building up, Ross Stripling has emerged as the current ace of the Los Angeles Dodgers starting rotation.
It’s a welcomed change for Stripling, who regularly has been the odd man out and relegated to the bullpen. “I love it. Really, both of them are so fun between the bullpen and rotation, but I definitely like the rotation one more,” he said after facing the Arizona Diamondbacks on Friday.
“Being in the dugout with the guys, obviously get the off days to recover, and the idea of trying to get a lineup out three times, I feel like has always fit my arsenal a little better. I do like being in the rotation more. That’s kind of the best gig in the big leagues.
“The bullpen is fun in its own way, too. You’re kind of part of your own little crew and you feel like you’re locked in every day versus those days you’re not pitching (as a starter), you’re kind of a cheerleader. Loving the rotation and definitely striving to stay in there.”
With Buehler and Julio Urias not fully stretched out, and Wood laboring through his short outing, the Dodgers bullpen has shouldered a heavy workload through the first week of the season. Particularly heading into Thursday, as 14 relief pitchers appeared the previous two games.
Stripling may prefer the rotation, but the bullpen was front of mind in his second start of the season. “That was just kind of a tough travel day in general. Playing 13 innings in Houston, then basically an overnight flight. I didn’t really get in my bed here in Arizona until like 3 a.m.,” he said.
“Normally you get to fly out early, but that’s not what we’re doing this year. Kind of a lot of things working against us in this game, including the bullpen covering so many innings in Houston and doing an unbelievable job. Yeah, I wanted to come out, be efficient and at least work into the sixth or seventh again if I could.
“Give those guys a little bit of a break, since I’m sure probably half of them were down. Wanted to at least be able to take the bulk of the game and take some pressure off them. Our lineup did it, too. Scoring runs early, getting us off to a good lead and easing our nerves early. Hopefully our bullpen keeps it rocking because they’re doing great right now.”
Stripling wound up pitching into the sixth inning and was removed after allowing an RBI double to Christian Walker that trimmed the Dodgers’ lead to 6-2. Stripling believes he could have completed the sixth if not for a battle with Starling Marte in the opening frame.
“First inning, 14-pitch at-bat, just kind of saying uncle a little bit. Put the ball in play, man,” Stripling laughed. “If you’re going to get a hit, just do it already. Especially when I’m throwing the kitchen sink at him. I think I threw him multiple curveballs, multiple changeups, multiple sliders in that at-bat.
“He was just fouling them off and giving me fits. It stinks now looking back, because I probably could’ve stayed out for the sixth and tried to keep it at two runs there. But because of that 14-pitch at-bat, I basically got pulled because of pitch count. Now looking back, it would’ve been nice to maybe get earlier contact there and tried to finish my own outing.”
Pitchers across the league had multiple strategies while MLB remained on hiatus and faced uncertainty for a start date. Stripling chose to use the time off to continue throwing, and he’s reaped the benefits since.
“I wanted to come in built up. One, because I thought it gave me a good chance to make the rotation and to get a lot of innings early. Whether I was in the rotation or not, guys that built up were going to be guys that we relied on,” he explained.
“So I wanted to come in at three innings and was able to use the Summer Camp to work up to basically six full innings and 80-something pitches.
“To be able to go seven strong in the first one and into the sixth in this one, like I said, I didn’t finish it as strong as I would’ve liked, but definitely encouraged with the ability to get through the lineup multiple times, get somewhat deep into games and kind of hold my strength for 90 pitches or so. Definitely feeling good so far.”
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