Ross Stripling is scheduled to pitch four innings Thursday, the Dodgers stretching out the right-hander as a starter even though, barring injury, he is expected to begin the season in his familiar swingman role, pitching mostly out of the bullpen with an occasional spot start.
Manager Dave Roberts announced Monday the Dodgers will open the season with a rotation of Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, David Price, Julio Urias and Alex Wood, but that has hardly deterred Stripling.
“In my eyes, I’m competing for the fifth spot in the rotation — that’s the mind-set I have to have,” Stripling said. “As long as I’m getting built up and getting that opportunity to start as much as anyone else, I’m happy.”
Stripling, 30, was a National League All-Star in 2018, when he went 8-2 with a 2.08 ERA in 25 games, 14 of them starts, in the first half, striking out 108 and walking 14 in 95 1/3 innings. He finished with an 8-6 record and 3.02 ERA and in 2019 went 4-4 with a 3.47 ERA in 32 games, 15 of them starts.
Stripling thought he would finally solidify a rotation spot in early February when reports surfaced that he and outfielder Joc Pederson would be traded to the Angels in a deal that was linked to the Mookie Betts deal.
Stripling and Pederson were in limbo for five days while the Dodgers, Red Sox and Twins ironed out complications of an agreed-upon three-team trade that would send Betts and David Price to the Dodgers, but the Angels pulled out of the pact, and Stripling and Pederson remained Dodgers.
“When you think about the trade, the one good thing was that I could go somewhere and spread my wings, make 30 starts if I stay healthy, whereas here, that opportunity doesn’t really exist,” Stripling said.
“But there are no hard feelings. I like this role. It’s been good for me, and I know they really value it. I’ve found a good little niche. But I still want to get into that [starter’s] routine and have that leash and know they’re going to let me go. It will happen at some point.”
In the meantime, Stripling is working to improve his repertoire by experimenting with a new changeup grip, which he believes will turn the off-speed offering into more of an out pitch.
“I’ve gone back and forth between a four-seam and a two-seam grip,” Stripling said. “I throw mostly four-seam fastballs, so I was using a four-seam changeup [grip] for a while, but it was spinning funny and not getting much movement.
“So I went to a two-seam [grip] and was getting some movement and having some success with it. Now I’m trying to make it look as much like my fastball as I can. The ones I’ve thrown well have much more movement.”
Several conversations with hitters, teammates and opponents motivated Stripling, who also throws a fastball, slider and curve.
“They say, ‘I see your changeup the whole way,’ from the glove to out of my hand, and the way it spins,” Stripling said. “We’re trying to combat that.
“People always say, ‘Hey, if you had that, it would be a great weapon.’ But in the middle of June, I’m trying to get guys out. I’m not going to spend an hour a day working on a new pitch and get lost.”
The new grip produced a pitch that goes down and in to right-handed hitters.
“If you look at my arsenal and what I do to righties, a lot of things are moving right-to-left, so you can almost eliminate the inner half against me,” Stripling said. “Sometimes I’ll work up-and-in, but I’ll rarely live up there.
“If I can throw something that looks down the middle, assuming it will break [to the outside] and then break [to the inside], that will be a good weapon for me.”
Stripling already has an effective pitch-mix but can be better with an improved changeup.
“He’s a major league starter — that’s a fact,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “There are very few guys who can command four pitches that are big league pitches, can get righties and lefties out. Ross has that ability and the head to attack hitters and understand how to go about that. He’s one of my favorites.”
Staff writer Jack Harris contributed to this story.