The Dodgers completed their starting rotation Friday by awarding the final spot to rookie Ross Stripling, a pitcher the team had not even included on its lengthy depth chart at the start of spring training.
"To be here is pretty incredible, almost unimaginable," Stripling said.
Stripling, 26, beat out Carlos Frias and Zach Lee for the No. 5 spot. Frias and Lee are expected to start the season in the rotation at triple-A Oklahoma City.
Stripling has not pitched above the double-A level. He sat out the 2014 season after Tommy John surgery, returned to make 14 starts last season, and arrived at spring training with the hope of impressing a new coaching staff, not winning a rotation spot.
"I didn't honestly think I had much of a chance," he said. "My goal was just to prove I could pitch."
Stripling did not rank among the Dodgers' top 15 starters entering camp. The Dodgers had veterans in the rotation in Clayton Kershaw, Scott Kazmir, Kenta Maeda, Brett Anderson and Hyun-Jin Ryu, although the last two will open the season on the disabled list.
They had depth in Alex Wood, who now is the No. 4 starter, and in Frias, Lee, Mike Bolsinger and Brandon Beachy; the latter two have battled injury this spring. They had prospects in Julio Urias, Jose DeLeon and Jharel Cotton, and rehabilitating starters Brandon McCarthy and Frankie Montas.
Stripling pitched 11 innings this spring, posting a 4.09 earned-run average. Manager Dave Roberts admitted the Dodgers had opened camp thinking that, if all went well for Stripling, the right-hander would make his major league debut in September.
"Where we are as far as the state of our rotation, it's more of a necessity for him to start the season with us," Roberts said.
The Dodgers used 16 starting pitchers last season, most in the major leagues. They expect Anderson, Bolsinger, McCarthy and Ryu to return from the disabled list at various points this summer.
Stripling said the Dodgers have guaranteed nothing beyond an April 8 start at San Francisco. He said he expects the Dodgers to limit him to 125 to 150 innings this year, in his first full season after surgery.
The prospect of making a single start did not dampen his excitement. He awoke Friday in Arizona, at the Dodgers' spring home, and within hours he had flown to Los Angeles and gotten the good news at Dodger Stadium.
"I was late to stretch my first day because I didn't know what I was doing," he said. "I didn't have a hat. I didn't know if we were in pants or shorts. ... It's already every bit as exciting as I could have dreamed it would be, and it's only going to get better. This is the first hour."
If Stripling remains with the Dodgers through May 15, the end of a weekend series against the St. Louis Cardinals, he could oppose his Texas A&M roommate: Michael Wacha, the Cardinals' star pitcher.
"Facing Wacha would be crazy," Stripling said. "To hit off him? That would be nuts."
Stripling wasted no time taking advantage of major league perks, including the enormous free suitcases bestowed upon Dodgers players on Friday. Most of his favorite colors were gone, so he wheeled a bright pink suitcase through the clubhouse.
"I'm hoping my fiancée likes it," he said.
The Dodgers have finalized the first six spots in their bullpen: closer Kenley Jansen, left-hander J.P. Howell and right-handers Pedro Baez, Joe Blanton, Yimi Garcia and Chris Hatcher. Roberts said the final bullpen spot would go to Luis Avilan — if the Dodgers decide they need a second left-handed reliever — or Louis Coleman. … Catcher Yasmani Grandal (forearm soreness) could be a candidate for the disabled list if he cannot play Saturday. … Roberts said DeLeon probably would not start the season at triple A so the Dodgers could conserve his innings. DeLeon, 23, ranked by Baseball America as the No. 23 prospect in the sport, threw a career-high 114 innings last season.