A representative from the Ritz-Carlton in downtown Denver sent an instructional video to the Dodgers traveling secretary in the days leading up to the team’s trip to town this weekend. As they prepared for a series with the Rockies, the Dodgers confronted a litany of issues, from how their bullpen will function without closer Kenley Jansen to whether their inconsistent offense can ever cohere.
But at least they have the composition of Ross Stripling’s mattress under control.
In the video, which was forwarded to Stripling, a staffer demonstrated how to flip the hotel’s mattress to use the firmer side. When he landed on the disabled list in August, Stripling admitted his lower back inflammation was triggered by the fluffiness of his sleeping surface in Denver. The hotel hoped to correct his issue.
“That’s when I realized how high-maintenance I was,” Stripling said. “I was like, ‘Oh God.’”
Stripling was red-faced as he related the anecdote on Wednesday morning. His complexion stemmed in part from his embarrassment — candor is rarely rewarded in a baseball clubhouse — and in part from the simulated game he had just completed. The outing was his final hurdle in a return that was first stalled by a recurrence of discomfort and then delayed as the Dodgers built up his pitch count.
The team intends to activate Stripling on Saturday. Manager Dave Roberts indicated the team has not decided how to use Stripling. He could appear in high-leverage situations or he could handle multiple innings. He made the All-Star team as a starter earlier this summer, but he may spend the rest of the season in the bullpen.
Stripling logged 34 pitches in his simulated outing. It resembled a three-inning assignment. He suggested he could throw up to 45 pitches in his first game back.
His presence in the bullpen is a necessity, especially this weekend. Stripling has not pitched since Aug. 9, which was also the first game the Dodgers (76-64) played without Jansen after he experienced an irregular heartbeat. The condition sidelined Jansen for 11 days, and it precluded him from traveling with the team to Denver this weekend.
Jansen met with a cardiologist on Tuesday who advised Jansen not to travel for the series. The recommendation disappointed Jansen, but he declined to challenge it. He was wary of exacerbating his condition, which will likely require surgery this offseason.
“At the end of the day, I have three children,” Jansen said. “I want to see them get old, graduate and all that stuff. I would love to help my team, but at the same time, you just have to take it easy. You can’t [go against] the doctors. That’s what they do for a living.”
With Jansen recuperating in August, the Dodgers suffered through a phase in which the bullpen blew a lead in seven consecutive games. The team lost its grip on the National League West in the process. The Dodgers recovered to reclaim first from Arizona last weekend, only to stumble at home against the Mets and watch the Rockies rise to the top. Colorado leads by 1 1/2 games heading into Friday.
Given the size of their deficit, their general unreliability as a team and the brevity of the remaining schedule, the Dodgers may not be able to survive another extended bullpen collapse and still reach the playoffs.
“Listen, I believe in all these guys, even in the last month,” Jansen said. “It sucks that we went through that rough stretch when I was done. But when I was in my rough stretch when I came back, these guys were dominating. So I believe in each of these guys. They can hold it down and help us win ball games.”
The options to replace Jansen are all fallible. Kenta Maeda has been unable to replicate the success he experienced as a reliever in the postseason, giving up runs in three of his six appearances since shifting to the bullpen. Ryan Madson has let five of the 12 batters he’s faced as a Dodger reach base. Neither Scott Alexander nor Dylan Floro has fully earned Roberts’ trust.
The team has reached the point where Pedro Baez, the bane of the fanbase’s existence, could appear in high-leverage spots. Baez has strung together 10 consecutive scoreless appearances — a streak that began after he gave up four runs on Aug. 9 in relief of Stripling.
“We’ve got some good candidates,” Roberts said. “But right now, I can’t say what’s going to happen on Friday. I don’t know.”
Stripling intends to be in the mix by the second game of the series. He was optimistic about his ability to handle an evening at the team hotel before getting into a game. He had dealt with stiffness in his back on several occasions there in the past. The situation sounded like a joke, which was why Stripling was so sheepish as he talked about it.
“I’m telling you, when I wake up there, it takes me like 15 minutes to be able to walk to the bathroom,” Stripling said before shaking his head. “That’s a major exaggeration. But I’m just telling you — very, very stiff. For whatever reason there, it could be altitude, all that plays into it.
“In general, Ritz-Carlton beds are very soft. And I’ve slept on a very firm bed the last couple years, and maybe I’ve got used to it. I hate talking about it, because it sounds so wimpy.”
Stripling was happier to discuss his role this weekend — even if he had little clarity about it.