SAN FRANCISCO -- At some point Ross Stripling will hear it, if he has not already, that one piece of advice afforded to all first-time starters in the major leagues.
The winner of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ fifth-starter sweepstakes admits that the easiest advice often can be the toughest to follow.
“Well, if anything, that might be the one thing I can always do, knock on wood, I can throw strikes,” Stripling said. “If I can get in there and throw the first one in there, it will ease your nerves. But it’s not always the easiest thing in the world.”
That first major league pitch for a guy who has never been past the Double-A level, will come Friday night at San Francisco. He will throw a strike at one point, it’s just a matter of how many he can get away with. The Giants have a poised, veteran lineup, but the against-the-odds theme works for Stripling.
Two years ago today, the right-hander was recovering from Tommy John surgery. One year ago today, he still had not returned to the mound. Barely over a month ago, he was probably the fifth- or sixth-best option for a rotation spot, if he was even on the depth chart at all.
Even before he was named to the Opening Day roster last week, it still looked as if Carlos Frias might be starting Friday evening along McCovey Cove, not the fifth-round draft pick in 2012 out of Texas A&M.
“I think one part of it is that I have been fortunate to pitch in front of some big crowds,” Stripling said. “Not 50,000 or anything like that, but I have to think that doesn’t faze me as much as it would a high school kid. So that’s something that I don’t have to worry a whole lot about. If you can just talk to yourself on the mound like, ‘Hey man, you’ve been doing this for years. Just freakin’ pump in strikes and you’re going to be OK.’ That goes a long way.”
That is essentially the advice his former roommate gave him, give or take a few words. Stripling used to pay the rent with the St. Louis Cardinals’ Michael Wacha, when the two were Aggies in College Station, Texas.
“He just says it’s baseball and you have been doing it forever,” Stripling said. “If you can implement a game plan, you can get guys out. He said have confidence to go out and do what you can do. He didn’t get crazy specific or anything, and I didn’t ask him about any specific hitters. Just broad advice, that it’s still baseball and go out and attack, be a competitor.”
Stripling certainly has done his homework. He was watching the Giants play the Milwaukee Brewers earlier in the week, seeing how Brewers right-handers Jimmy Nelson and Taylor Jungmann exposed any potential weaknesses.
“I’ve known Jungmann for a long time,” he said. “We go back to Texas high school baseball. Just watch what he did, and he did some things that I think I can emulate.”
He watched Clayton Kershaw on Monday in San Diego.
“Watching how Kershaw attacks is unbelievable, man,” Stripling said. “It seems like he’s never behind in the count. He’s just pumping in strikes and getting ahead of guys.”
He has scouting reports on his computer, charts, graphs and tendencies printed in his locker.
The hardest part has actually been the waiting as the fifth and final starter to appear in a game this season. In fact, he will be the last member of the Dodgers’ roster to see action in a game.
“The wait has been kind of building up the anxiousness,” he said. “I wouldn’t say I’m nervous, I’m just eager to get the ball rolling and face some major league hitters; see how it goes.”
It’s almost time to throw strikes. It’s a simple strategy that worked for his buddy and former roommate. He knows there is no reason it can’t work for him.
“You tell yourself, ‘You know what, I can pitch like this guy [Wacha]. I have a chance at success, too. He’s done it. We had similar numbers in college. Maybe if I can go up there and throw strikes and all that stuff I’ll have success, too,’” he said.