With unopened cardboard boxes stacked knee-high in front of his locker, Adam Kolarek made small talk Friday afternoon with Ross Stripling, his new next-door stallmate in his new clubhouse.
It was a brief conversation, covering their hometowns, their careers, and how the Dodgers’ latest acquisition was settling in. Chats like this have been common of late for Kolarek, who was traded to Los Angeles from the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday in a deadline deal.
He has introduced himself in the elevator, the bullpen and the dugout — though as of Saturday afternoon, not yet on the mound. For the first time since reaching the majors, he’s trying to adapt to different surroundings.
“You never expect something like that to happen,” he said of getting traded. “Once you’re able to let it sink in a little bit, [you] realize how exciting this opportunity is for me personally.”
The rest of Los Angeles wasn’t quite as enthused by Kolarek’s arrival. It’s not that the left-hander, who throws from various slot angles and had a 3.95 ERA in 43 ⅓ innings with Tampa Bay, isn’t a welcome addition to a shaky Dodgers bullpen. But after weeks of speculation, fans had hoped for a bigger name to walk through the door.
They’ll have to settle for the situational sinkerball pitcher -- more than half of his 54 appearances with Tampa Bay lasted less than an inning -– with a self-described “rubber arm” instead.
“He’s intelligent,” manager Dave Roberts said prior to Saturday’s game. “He is very in-tune with what is going on. I’ve got to find a way to get him in a game.”
Kolarek is eager to seize his opportunity with the Dodgers. Originally an 11th-round pick of the New York Mets in 2010, the University of Maryland product was released or granted free agency three times before breaking into the majors in 2017. Now, he could quietly become a key piece on the team with the best record in baseball.
“I was in the minors for a long time, and feel like I’ve been able to take advantage of opportunities as far as always trying to improve each day. When moments like this happen, I know personally I‘m ready for it.”
Stripling’s recovery on track
Stripling threw a 25-pitch bullpen session Saturday as he continues to rehab neck stiffness and biceps tendinitis that landed him on the injured list last week.
“He looked really good,” Roberts said. “Threw all his pitches. The ball was coming out well.”
The next step for Stripling, who went on the 10-day IL on July 27, probably will be a rehab assignment with single-A Rancho Cucamonga next Tuesday. Roberts said Stripling probably will throw a couple of innings.
“I would like to face hitters before I get back into a big league game,” Stripling said.
Roberts was still unsure if Stripling would return to the rotation once healthy. If Stripling is moved back to the bullpen, where he has made 14 of his 26 appearances, it would cut down on his rehab time.
“He hasn’t missed a whole lot of time,” Roberts said. “The build-up is still there. Then we’ll see where we go from there.”
Bellinger back at first
For the first time since June 30 and sixth time all year, Cody Bellinger was the first baseman in the Dodgers’ lineup Saturday. Roberts said it could become a trend, especially against right-handed pitching, following the team’s decision to end Joc Pederson’s error-plagued experiment at first.
“I had a good conversation with Cody, and obviously he’s been very consistent this year,” Roberts said. “There’s the versatility piece. There are times he’s going to be moving potentially from first base to the outfield, and vice versa. As long as we have that consistency in communication, I know Cody is all good.”