Ross Stripling fully understands his situation. Barring an injury or another unforeseen event over the next few days, his start against the Chicago Cubs on Thursday will be his final one for an unknown period of time. It could be a week. It could be for the rest of the season. He just knows that when Rich Hill is activated from the injured list Sunday, he will shift to the bullpen. He’d rather have a permanent spot in the Dodgers starting rotation, but the bullpen beats the bush leagues.
“I think if you let it bother you, then it’s going to bother you,” Stripling said. “That’s an obvious statement, but you can choose to accept what it is and you’re on a team that wins 95 games and competes for a World Series and that’s pretty damn fun. If you want to be a starter, they can very well send you to triple A and you can start down there. I’d rather be in the bullpen and stay up here with these guys. So I’m not going to get fired up one way or the other about it.”
The looming change isn’t an unknown for the 29-year-old Stripling. His major league career has been defined by his flexibility, and the Dodgers’ repeated use of it, since be debuted in 2016. Last season, for example, Stripling began the year in the bullpen, joined the rotation the first week of May, made the National League All-Star team as a starter, had a back injury derail his campaign and wasn’t included on the postseason roster.
He said the experience has influenced his approach. He knows his stuff, particularly his velocity, will play up as a reliever. He also knows relievers must bring their best from the first pitch. Every result is magnified. In 109⅓ innings as a reliever, he owns a 3.13 earned-run average. His ERA as a starter is 3.66.
Stripling began the season in the rotation because of injuries to Hill and Clayton Kershaw. He has been effective in his five starts, posting a 3.07 ERA across 29⅓ innings. His best outing came April 14, when he limited the Milwaukee Brewers to one run over eight innings. It’s the deepest a Dodgers starter has pitched in a game this season.
“You know you’re a better team when Rich and Hyun-Jin [Ryu] and Kersh and all those guys are in there,” Stripling said. “There’s no doubt about that. So now moving forward, things will happen where guys will miss a start or tweak something or whatever. So now you want to leave a lasting impression in the coaching, in the front-office’s minds of what I was as a starter.”
Stripling will have one final chance at Wrigley Field on Thursday. He said he doesn’t know precisely what his role will be out of the bullpen but assumes he will be used primarily as a long reliever, either to bridge the gap to late-inning relievers or eat innings when a starter stumbles. The Dodgers also have Julio Urias, who was recently moved to the bullpen, to log multiple innings but the left-hander’s workload will be closely monitored. Stripling doesn’t have those limitations.
“I’ve done it now a handful of times, thinking back to my first ones, where I knew the bullpen was staring me in the face and I was starting, then yeah, that put more pressure on myself type of thing,” Stripling said. “But now, I think I’ve just kind of accepted that’s the way it is.”
Urias needs rest
Urias made his debut as a reliever Tuesday against the Cubs with the Dodgers trailing 6-0 in the fifth inning. The two-inning appearance rendered him unavailable until Friday. Why use him in that spot? Dodgers manager Dave Roberts explained he preferred to have one reliever eat innings after Kenta Maeda lasted only four than to use the bulk of his eight-man bullpen. Caleb Ferguson and Yimi Garcia each pitched one inning in the loss.