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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Javy Guerra adds length to Dodgers’ bullpen.

Javy Guerra

It came as little surprise when the Dodgers recalled pitcher Javy Guerra from Triple-A Albuquerque on Tuesday.

Guerra was sent down late in spring training to pitch as a starter at Albuquerque. By his fourth start, he got stretched out to five innings and 75 pitches. The Dodgers needed a reliever who could pitch more than one inning after seeing Josh Wall — Albuquerque’s closer to begin the season — struggle in the long reliever role Monday.

Wall and Guerra swapped places Tuesday, and Guerra returned to a familiar building.

Well, mostly familiar. Once you walk down the tunnel leading into the home clubhouse area, things look a little different inside Dodger Stadium than they did last year.

“I got lost like three or four times,” Guerra said. “They told me ‘go to the weight room.’ It took me 10 minutes.”
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Josh Wall returns to Los Angeles with a new look.

Josh Wall

Josh Wall sat in two bullpens Monday: The Albuquerque Isotopes’ by day and the Dodgers’ by night. (Associated Press photo)

For Josh Wall, the motivation to reach Dodger Stadium began long before he was cut in the final days of spring training.

“I had a mindset,” Wall said Tuesday. “Being up at the end of the season last year, I came in with the attitude of not just showing up to spring and seeing the numbers and saying, ‘I’m going to Albuquerque.’ I’m going to do everything I can to make the team. I just worked on things, got myself in really good shape. Worked on some things mechanically I’d been working on at the end of the season, ran with it and everything was feeling good.”

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Why Dodgers pitcher Shawn Tolleson spent Friday night on his hotel room floor.

Shawn Tolleson

Dodgers pitcher Shawn Tolleson received an epidural injection in his lower back Monday. (Getty Images)

Shawn Tolleson pitched an inning Thursday afternoon in Albuquerque, New Mexico. That night, he and the Isotopes flew into Des Moines to play the Triple-A Iowa Cubs. Friday morning, the Dodgers called up Tolleson to pitch in that night’s game in Phoenix, Arizona.

“I had a crazy travel day,” he said.

Along the way, Tolleson’s lower back stiffened up. The adrenaline got him through 11 pitches against the Diamondbacks — he walked both batters he faced — but it couldn’t mask the pain in his back at night.

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Dodgers rotation scramble: Josh Beckett scratched, Chad Billingsley bruised, Zack Greinke improving.

Josh Beckett

Josh Beckett was scratched from his scheduled start Tuesday with the flu. Several Dodgers have been afflicted with the bug (Ted Lilly, Zack Greinke, Peter Moylan, Ramon Castro, Adrian Gonzalez) and Beckett’s doesn’t seem to be too bad. He was scheduled to throw on a back field Monday morning.

(Update: Beckett indeed threw a simulated game on the back field and reportedly passed the test with flying colors.)

In his place, Josh Wall will start against the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Dodgers will likely use a combination of relievers, including some minor-leaguers, to fill out the innings behind Wall, who hasn’t pitched more than 1 ⅔ innings in a Cactus League game this spring.

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Some odds and ends from Dodgers spring training.

Some odds and ends from Thursday at Camelback Ranch, the final day before the Dodgers’ position players are expected to report to spring training.
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Spring training preview: Relief pitchers.

Brandon LeagueToday begins our daily countdown to pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training on Tuesday with a position-by-position breakdown of the Dodgers’ roster. We begin with the bullpen.

I didn’t include Aaron Harang, Chris Capuano or Ted Lilly on this list, even though one or more of them could wind up pitching out of the ‘pen. Even without them, this is a solid unit on paper with ample depth. The closer situation is fairly clear, but the Dodgers enter the season with more viable options for the ninth inning than they’ve had in recent seasons.

There are a few injury concerns facing this unit, but none are severe. With one exception, the Dodgers’ bullpen should start the season healthy, capable of becoming one of the best in the National League.

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Poll: Who makes the Dodgers’ opening-day bullpen?

We don’t have confirmation yet, but if the Dodgers wind up signing Peter Moylan (as has been reported), the competition for the final spot out of the bullpen becomes interesting.

Update: Moylan confirmed that he’s joining the Dodgers via Twitter:

 

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August Dodger Pride Award winners announced.

Josh Wall, Jerry Sands, Steven Ames, J.T. Wise, Ryan Acosta, Joc Pederson, Craig Stem, O’Koyea Dickson, Lindsey Caughel, Eric Smith, Jackson Mateo, Paul Hoenecke, Jose Diaz and Luis Alcantara were the minor-leaguers honored with Dodger Pride Awards in August, the team announced today.

The Dodger Pride Awards were created in 2008 by Ned Colletti, and are given on a monthly basis to the players at each level of the club’s minor league system who play the game with a “hustling, smart, aggressive style.” The players and staff on each respective club vote for the awards.

Here’s more on what each played did last month:
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Josh Wall up; Javy Guerra to DL. Update.

Right-handed reliever Josh Wall was recalled from for the third time this season from Triple-A Albuquerque and Javy Guerra was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a left oblique muscle strain retroactive to Sept. 3.

“He said it happened while he was warming up” before his last appearance on Sunday, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said.

The Dodgers needed to move Guerra to the disabled list because Wall had been optioned to Triple-A within the last 10 days.

Guerra tossed a scoreless inning on Sunday in his only appearance since being recalled from Albuquerque and has not allowed a run in his last 10 outings (12.1 IP) dating to July 28. Overall, Guerra is 2-3 with eight saves and a 2.60 ERA in 45 games with the Dodgers.

Wall is 1-0 with an 11.57 ERA in three relief appearances. Since being optioned Aug. 30, Wall has made two scoreless appearances, including picking up the save in Albuquerque’s division-clinching win over Omaha on Sunday. With the Isotopes, Wall was selected to the All-Pacific Coast League team after leading the circuit with 28 saves and going 2-1 with a 4.53 ERA in 55 games.

“Javy, I was using kind of as a replacement with Jamey Wright. He kind of stepped into more of a later-inning situation,” Mattingly said. “Javy could go multiple innings. So that changes that. We brought up John Ely, who can step into that role. Josh Wall is more of a power, one-inning guy, but he’s pretty durable. I think Josh can help us.”