To begin the second season of the “Weekly Pitcher’s Spotlight,” the focus will be on one of the more surprising outings of 2016’s opening week. The Los Angeles Dodgers’ rookie Ross Stripling made his Major League Baseball debut against the rival San Francisco Giants. He pitched into the eighth inning without allowing a hit, and then was removed by rookie manager Dave Roberts. The very next batter proceeded to hit a game-tying home run and the Dodgers wound up ultimately losing in extra innings. Stripling, just five outs away from a no-hitter earned a hard-luck no-decision for his debuting efforts. For Stripling and the Dodgers, is this a case of what could have been?
Stripling was drafted by Los Angeles in the fifth round of the 2012 Draft out of Texas A&M. His senior season featured a no-hitter, something he very nearly completed in start number one at the big-league level. As Stripling worked through the minor league ranks he saw his velocity increase from his time in college. At Texas A&M, Stripling took on a ton of innings. In the minors he was often on a pitch count limit until he ultimately underwent Tommy John surgery.
After a shaky warm-up session, Stripling’s mound presence and command took over. He was able to control all of his pitches with a consistent delivery. Stripling did walk four batters against the Giants, but did not yield a hit in his first professional start. After 100 pitches, Roberts made the call of removing Stripling from the game. But was it the right call?
After the game, everyone was saying the right things. Stripling himself admitted that he was tired and okay with the decision. As he makes his way back from surgery, those pitch count limits are once again in focus. But to be taken out of a game with a no-hitter intact is a very hard thing to accept. In this game, there are never any guarantees that this type of opportunity will come along again. To also have a chance at a no-hitter in a professional debut is not something that comes around all too often.
What makes the move even harder to accept is that the very next batter not only ended the no-hit bid, but did so with a game-tying home run. Just five outs away, Stripling would not even get the chance to celebrate a victory his first time out.
There are some that may not totally agree with the decision to pull Stripling. Assuming he were to finish the game, it may have taken 20-30 more pitches to complete for a total of 120-130 pitches for the game. Given that the first few weeks of the season typically have extra off days built in, the Dodgers could have easily skipped Stripling’s next start and not be affected too much overall. If Los Angeles was concerned with Stripling’s work load and added stress pitches in the wake of Tommy John surgery, the skipped start could have helped with that. In the era of pitch count sabermetrics, the by-the-book mentality may very well have stripped Stripling of a no-hitter.
While everyone, including Stripling appears at ease with the decision, was it the right call? For Stripling, many more starts appear to be on the horizon for the 26-year-old right-hander. But just how many will have the possibilities that start number one offered before they were taken away?