Although the Los Angeles Dodgers boast an abundance of starting pitchers, a proverbial depth chart was relatively clear at the outset of Spring Training. When camp opened at Camelback Ranch, the team’s top five starters were Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Kenta Maeda and Rich Hill.
At full health, they projected to be the undisputed members of the Opening Day starting rotation. But Kershaw’s shoulder inflammation that halted his throwing has created some uncertainty.
While it remains uncertain if Kershaw will extend his franchise record of Opening Day starts to nine, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts made it clear Ross Stripling was first in line to fill a potential void in the rotation.
The declaration came on the same day Stripling made his second Cactus League start, in which he focused on building his pitch count, per J.P. Hoornstra of the Southern California News:
“The biggest goal of today is to build up, really, and get the pitch count underneath you,” Stripling said after throwing three innings against the Angels. “What’s going on with Kershaw, kind of the unknown of if he’ll be ready for Opening Day, you’ve got to have a guy ready and built up – whether it’s me, Brock (Stewart), (Caleb) Ferguson or Julio (Urías), whoever it is.”
Stripling stranded Mike Trout after allowing a two-out triple in the first inning, then gave up and RBI double and run-scoring single in the second. He set the Angels down in order in the third inning and afterward went to continue throwing in the bullpen.
Whereas most pitchers complete just one inning in their first Spring Training start, Stripling went two scoreless frames. The Dodgers previously outlined a plan to get into the middle of March before deciding on whether to prepare Stripling — and Caleb Ferguson — as starters or relievers.
In light of Roberts’ recent comment as well as uncertainty with Kershaw, Stripling clearly will continue to stretch out as a starter.