LOS ANGELES — No matter what role he starts the season in, Ross Stripling always ends up starting games for the Dodgers. This year, he might get his chance earlier than expected.
OK, not earlier, since opening day is July 23, and the season was supposed to start four months before that. But in a relative sense, earlier than anticipated.
A hole in the Dodgers starting rotation opened when David Price on Saturday opted not to play this season, saying “it is in the best interest of my health and my family’s health.”
As callous as it may seem to discuss the baseball ramifications of a health decision made during a pandemic, it’s the reality that we’re in. And Price made his choice on his own volition, which somewhat soothes what could have otherwise been a macabre decision.
The Dodgers plan to use a five-man rotation, so if the remaining four named starters are all healthy in 2½ weeks, it’s down to Stripling, Dustin May, and Tony Gonsolin for one spot on the starting staff.
Stripling’s success in dual roles — including a 3.12 ERA, 3.36 FIP in 84 relief appearances in his four seasons — might hurt his starting chances, since the Dodgers would prefer May start rather than relieve. Dave Roberts was hesitant to announce anyone in the rotation just yet.
“What Ross has done for our ball club is evident and certainly can’t be discounted,” Roberts said Sunday. “But there’s no reason to name a starter right now that takes the place of David.”
That Stripling is even a name being discussed in the rotation now is a better chance than he got in the earlier incarnation of spring training. Roberts named his starting rotation in February, with Julio Urias getting the fourth slot and Alex Wood, back on a one-year contract, the fifth spot.
“We were just, you know, a few minutes into spring training, and I felt that I didn’t really get a fair shake. I’m trying to earn that spot,” Stripling said Sunday. “And that’s not saying that Julio and Alex don’t deserve it. I mean, heck, man, we got seven, eight guys that could be in our starting rotation, so it’s certainly not a shot at them. It’s just that I guess I expected it to be more of an ongoing battle for the position throughout spring training and it was announced just a few games in.”
Roberts told reporters his rotation before he told Stripling, and he talked to Roberts and Andrew Friedman about it.
“They both said, ‘Yeah, we’re sorry that went down the way it did. You are a starter, we see you as a starter, and we’re still gonna go with them at the four and five. You’re the first guy in some happens to anyone rotation.’ And you know, thanks. But, I said I’d like to know ahead of time rather than finding out those things on Twitter.”
It’s been an odd year for Stripling. He negotiated to have $1.5 million of his $2.1 million salary this year paid as a signing bonus, which meant only $600,000 is subject to pro-rated pay in a shortened season. That means Stripling will end up getting paid 82 percent of his full salary in 2020, compared to 37 percent for the vast majority of players in a 60-game season.
He was nearly traded to the Angels in February along with Joc Pederson as an ancillary move to the Dodgers acquiring Price and Mookie Betts. That would have earned Stripling his first real shot at an extended time in a starting rotation, but the deal fell through.
Stripling has started 52 games in four major league seasons, including 36 starts in the last two years, and has relieved 84 times. He has averaged just shy of 97 innings per season.
“I think I’ve found a nice little niche role for myself where I can go both ways. I can start, I can relieve. I can get you one out late, or go four innings in long relief to bridge a short start to the back of the bullpen, and I’m totally fine with that,” Stripling said. “I like it. I think it’s a unique role and I enjoy being good at it. But I do want, you know, heads up and clarity if that was changing or if a decision being made that kind of directly affects my role.”
Stripling will likely pitch four innings in a simulated game this week, leaving time to build up to six innings before the Dodgers’ opening series.
“I’ll be soaking up innings in my opinion, basically either way, whether I’m starting or not,” he said. “Obviously I’d rather start if I’m built up, and I feel like I can start then, and go right into that spot.”