Daily Distractions: Cut fastball could fast-track Ross Stripling to Los Angeles.

Ross Stripling

Dodgers pitching prospect Ross Stripling didn’t throw a cut fastball in college at Texas A&M, but it led to plenty of success at Double-A Chattanooga. (Texas A&M photo)

If Ross Stripling appears in a major-league game with the Dodgers this season, the 25-year-old will inevitably draw comparisons to all-time saves leader Mariano Rivera.

But hey, the kid started it when he began describing how he embraced the cut fastball, the pitch that defined Rivera’s 19-year career.

“I throw from such a high arm slot, and these balls have such smaller laces than college balls, they’ll just move on their own,” Stripling said earlier this month at the Dodgers’ winter development camp.

“If I just switch the ball a little bit in my fingers” — he turned the ball 30 degrees from a two-seam fastball grip — “it would cut on its own. I struggled to not cut the ball. I wanted to throw the ball where I wanted. They were like, ‘Maybe you should go with it.’ Then you hear the story that Mariano Rivera learned his cutter that way — not that I’m trying to compare myself to Mariano Rivera — but similar fashion. It was natural, then I just tried to fine-tune.”

Stripling posted a 2.78 earned-run average following his promotion to Double-A Chattanooga. Even more impressive was Stripling’s 4.37 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 94 Double-A innings. Continuing the theme of unfair comparisons, not even Clayton Kershaw‘s K:BB ratio was that high at Double-A.

The 25-year-old’s talent is still raw. He still isn’t on the Dodgers’ 40-man roster, though a roster spot is rarely given to second-year professionals in the off-season since there is no risk of losing them through the Rule 5 draft. Stripling never called his own pitches, and never watched video of his performance, before 2013. He’s also got a four-pitch repertoire that he’s still mastering; he added the cutter last year to a fastball, changeup and curveball that served him well in college.

Stripling was a fifth-round draft pick by the Dodgers out of Texas A&M in 2012. In college, Stripling was teammates with Michael Wacha, the St. Louis Cardinals pitcher who was named MVP of the National League Championship Series after beating the Dodgers twice in the Cardinals’ six-game series victory.

Like Stripling, Wacha had all his pitches called for him from the dugout in college. That didn’t stop him from reaching the majors after only 26 minor-league appearances.

“His fastball is so strong, so demanding, that he can just throw that when he wants,” Stripling said of Wacha. “His changeup is kind of the same way,” Stripling said.

Much of the inertia pushing the Dodgers toward signing Masahiro Tanaka is money. That is to say: They have the money, so why not make a run? A lesser factor, not to be discounted, is the fact that Stephen Fife and Matt Magill were starting games by the end of April.

If the Dodgers don’t land Tanaka, it means that Stripling — along with Fife, Magill, Zach Lee and maybe swingman Seth Rosin — all move up the organizational depth chart. And we might get to see that cutter sooner rather than later.

Some bullet points for a National Hugging Day:
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Daily Distractions: Revisiting Greg Maddux, on the eve of his Hall of Fame announcement.

Greg Maddux

Greg Maddux pitched 23 games, regular season and playoffs combined, during stints with the Dodgers in 2006 and 2008. (Getty Images)

For your consideration, in the category of important dates in Dodgers history: June 6 and July 31, 2006.

On June 6, the Dodgers drafted Clayton Kershaw out of high school.

On July 31, they traded for Greg Maddux.

Not a bad couple months.

Maddux won’t be a unanimous first-ballot Hall of Fame selection, but he’ll probably come close. The Hall of Fame class of 2014 will be announced Wednesday and, barring a stunning comeback by Mike Piazza (currently polling at 67.7 percent), Maddux will be the only former Dodger going into Cooperstown this year.

I talked to Dodgers president Stan Kasten about Maddux and his legacy. Kasten was president of the Atlanta Braves during Maddux’s prime, which included a run of four straight Cy Young Awards, three straight ERA titles, and no less than 15 wins every season from 1988 to 2004. Take a moment to soak all that in.

Here are a couple tidbits about Maddux’s career that won’t make my story for Thursday’s editions:

“We weren’t sure we were going to get him,” Kasten said of pursuing Maddux in free agency in 1992. “The Yankees did outbid us substantially, but he decided he didn’t really want to play in that environment. He had a really good friend on our team, Damon Berryhill, who used to catch to him in Chicago. Damon told him how great the organization and environment was in Atlanta.”

Only one thing gave Kasten any pause about signing the pitcher to a five-year, $28 million deal.

“He wasn’t the cleanest medically,” Kasten said, “but we had good doctors, doctors with opinions we trusted. They signed off on him.”

Maddux only went on the disabled list once in 23 seasons. Maybe he played through more pain than anyone realized.

Some bullet points for a St. Distaff’s Day:

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Daily Distractions: Accentuating the positive, and tracking down some former Dodgers.

In my game story last night, I highlighted what ailed the Dodgers in their 5-3 loss to the Giants. (Photo gallery)

To be fair, here’s what the Dodgers did well in their first series of the season:

- Limited the Giants to a .208 batting average;
- Walked only two batters in the three games, while striking out 19;
- Didn’t allow a stolen base, while catching the Giants’ lone attempted thief;
- Turned a league-high seven double plays;
- In lieu of traditional offensive means, they got in the way of three San Francisco pitches.

OK, maybe the last one’s a stretch.

The positives paint a clear picture: the Dodgers pitchers were doing their jobs for the most part and, when they weren’t, the defense was helping out (Skip Schumaker‘s error last night serving as the obvious exception).

Here are some bullet points for an off-day for the Dodgers, except for Chad Billingsley, who will make his debut tonight in Rancho Cucamonga:

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Ten Dodgers become free agents.

The Dodgers declined to exercise the 2013 club options on Todd Coffey, Juan Rivera and Matt Treanor.

They join another seven players who became free agents today: Brandon League, Shane Victorino, Randy Choate, Jamey Wright, Joe Blanton, Adam Kennedy and Bobby Abreu.

In other words, no big names or surprises for the Dodgers on the first day of free agency. Players can only sign with new teams beginning at 9 p.m. Friday. Between now and then, the Dodgers can re-sign any of their in-house free agents, and they’ve already opened discussions with League’s representatives.

General manager Ned Colletti said that he would like to bring back Choate and Wright, as well, to keep intact a bullpen that finished the 2012 season strong.

Coffey, Rivera and Treanor now fall into the category of Victorino, Kennedy and Abreu: highly unlikely to be on the roster next season.

Blanton is an interesting case. The Dodgers gave him what amounted to a 10-start audition in August and September. In five starts at home, the 31-year-old right-hander went 1-1 with a 3.60 ERA. Not bad. In five road starts he was 1-3, 6.51. Bad.

I guess that makes Blanton a “known quantity” for a team that is looking to add a starting pitcher. But looking at a free-agent market that now includes Zack Greinke, Anibal Sanchez, Ryan Dempster, Kyle Lohse  and Hiroki Kuroda (another “known quantity”), the Dodgers probably figure they can do better.

The hot stove is just warming up.

No extra playing time for Bobby Abreu, but no retirement, either.

Bobby Abreu‘s first career pinch-hit home run provided the final two runs of the Dodgers’ 8-0 win over the Colorado Rockies. After the game, manager Don Mattingly was asked if he’d do more to get Abreu into the lineup.

With Shane Victorino, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier all healthy? No.

But there’s something to be said for the fourth act of Abreu’s season. Let’s call Act 1 “Anaheim,” Act 2 “Starter for the Dodgers,” Act 3 “Albuquerque” and Act 4 “Pinch hitter.” All 19 of Abreu’s plate appearances in September have come as a pinch-hitter. Add in his last four at-bats in July before the Dodgers designated him for assignment, and Abreu has made 23 straight plate appearances as a pinch hitter.

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Bobby Abreu up for stretch run.

Bobby Abreu was back Sunday. It didn’t feel like he never left.

Abreu has the same locker stall in the clubhouse, but a new number (12) and a new role — no more being penciled in to the first, third or fifth slot in the batting order, which he’s done in 40 of his 54 starts this season. Heck, the 38-year-old outfielder probably won’t start a game with Shane Victorino, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Juan Rivera all ahead of him on the outfield depth chart.

Now, Abreu becomes “another guy off the bench that has been around, is going to be comfortable up there, knows what he’s doing,” manager Don Mattingly said.

To make room for Abreu on the 40-man roster, the Dodgers creatively recalled Chris Withrow from Double-A Chattanooga and placed him on the 60-day disabled list. Withrow hasn’t pitched since Aug. 17.
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Abreu in, Sellers out.

Bobby Abreu is a Dodger.

Less than a week after he was released by the Angels, the 38-year-old outfielder signed a one-year contract with the Dodgers in advance of today’s game against the Chicago Cubs. Abreu was not listed in the starting lineup.

The 17-year veteran was hitting .208 at the time of his release. Last season, Abreu batted .253 with eight home runs and 60 RBIs. Abreu is a lifetime .293/.397/.877 (BA/OBP/OPS) hitter and counted Don Mattingly as his hitting coach with the New York Yankees from 2003-06.

To make room for Abreu on the active roster, infielder Justin Sellers was optioned to Triple-A Albuquerque. Sellers batted .150 (3-for-20) with two doubles in 10 games (7 starts).

The Dodgers now have 40 players on their 40-man roster.