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Ross Stripling thriving in relief role

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MLB: San Francisco Giants at Los Angeles Dodgers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

LOS ANGELES — Last year, Ross Stripling finished fourth on the Dodgers in innings pitched, which was a bit of a surprise. So far this year, he is sixth on the team, and that might be even more unexpected given that he has yet to start a game.

Stripling made the opening day roster in the Dodgers bullpen, and has been used in a variety of roles. Three times he has entered in the seventh inning with a one-run lead, and pitched in another tie game in the ninth.

But he also has been the long man, like on Monday night, when he followed Alex Wood with three innings, allowing one run while striking out five. Last week Stripling talked about his ever-changing role.

“High leverage situations is a different animal. I have never had to stay prepared for eight innings,” Stripling said. “That wears on you a little more than you think.

“And getting ready quickly — I’m used to having 25-30 pitches out in the bullpen to get all my stuff honed in. Now, I have 8-12 throws off the mound and you better have your stuff zoned in from pitch one. That has kind of been a battle.”

Most reliever Ks

Pitcher Team Strikeouts
Pitcher Team Strikeouts
Chris Devenski Hou 35
Craig Kimbrel Bos 26
Corey Knebel Mil 25
Ross Stripling LA 24
Cody Allen Cle 24
Kenley Jansen LA 23
Joe Smith Tor 23
Blake Parker Ana 23
through May 8, 2017 Source: Baseball-Reference

Stripling has been doing pretty well in that battle to date, posting a 3.79 ERA and 1.10 FIP in 19 innings, with 24 strikeouts and just four walks, one of which was intentional. Last year, Stripling walked 7.16% of batters faced as a rookie, and this year he’s at 5%.

“In the past I didn’t really walk a lot of people, but last year there was a lot of getting used to the big leagues. These are much better hitters who have much more command of the zone,” Stripling said. “There are definitely times last year when I was nibbling, giving hitters too much credit, then you find yourself down 2-0 or 2-1 and you have to throw a fastball.”

Part of Stripling’s success as a reliever this year has been the result from putting in work in preparation to be a starter.

“Last year it was such a battle to get through that 75-80-pitch mark, so this year the idea was to get bigger and stronger so that if I reached that point, it wouldn’t happen,” Stripling said. “I feel pretty confident that I could go 75-80 right now and be able to maintain my strength.”

So far, Stripling hasn’t had to go that far. His 55 pitches on Monday was a season high. But in getting stronger for the long haul, Stripling has seen an increase in velocity in his shorter outings. Last year, he averaged 91.35 mph on his four-seam fastball, per Brooks Baseball, and in 2017 stripling is up to 93.59 mph.

Dodgers relievers this season lead the National League in ERA (2.95), FIP (2.36), xFIP (3.25), strikeout percentage (28.9%), strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.12), and K-BB% (19.6%).