The Dodgers haven’t formally announced any of their starters for the series, though Clayton Kershaw is listed as the Game 1 starter on their website, and lined up to start the game by throwing a bullpen session Tuesday. Zack Greinke is expected to start Game 2.
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.