Stripling's seven innings a confidence booster

Dodgers rookie's status in rotation is uncertain

Stripling's seven innings a confidence booster

LOS ANGELES -- For better or worse, this season hasn't exactly gone according to plan for Ross Stripling. He came into Spring Training hoping to remind the front office he was still alive (his words), and ended up in the Opening Day rotation. After two months of short starts, he was sent to the team's Spring Training facility in Camelback Ranch, Ariz. He found his way back to Los Angeles by way of the bullpen, then reentered the rotation due to a blight of injuries.

That fickle season took another odd turn for Stripling on Friday night, as the right-hander threw seven innings, his longest outing since his 7 1/3 innings of no-hit ball in his debut. But he took the loss as the Dodgers fell, 5-1.

The majority of damage was done in a first inning where only one batted ball reached higher than three feet off the ground. Grounders from the Pirates found holes and slowly built a lead that the Los Angeles offense would never overcome.

"That was a frustrating inning," manager Dave Roberts said. "Quality of contact, Ross threw the ball well all night long. To his credit, he didn't show any emotion, didn't show his frustration. There's only so much he can do right there."

Stripling regrouped from there and retired 18 of the last 20 batters he faced. However, those two he didn't get hurt, as mistake fastballs to Andrew McCutchen and Jordy Mercer turned into home runs and brought his earned run total to five, tying a career high.

"Those were probably the two worst pitches I made all night," Stripling said. "Definitely punished me for them. The 2-1 to Mercer in the seventh, that one is frustrating, especially when my curveball was so good at the end of the game. I threw a 1-1 that didn't get there for a strike, then I threw a heater and he was all over it."

Before the Mercer homer to lead off the seventh, Stripling was sitting at 82 pitches and had to tell pitching coach Rick Honeycutt twice that he felt ready to pitch in the seventh. He reminded the pitching coach that the reason he was sent to Arizona was so he could work on pitching deep into games.

Stripling's effort to stay in the game seemed to backfire with the Mercer homer, forcing him to steal a glance toward the dugout and see if the manager was going to give him the hook. Roberts stayed put and that was all the encouragement Stripling would need to regroup and finally reach that seven-inning mark again.

With another start in his uncertain season over, Stripling will again wait to see if the team sends him out for another turn in the rotation. Brett Anderson's return on Sunday and an off-day Monday means the team might not need a fifth starter until Aug. 20. Rich Hill also said before Friday's game that he could make his Dodgers debut this week, potentially pushing Stripling out of the rotation. And one can't forget that an unspecified innings limit looms over Stripling, due to his 2014 Tommy John surgery.

All those unknowns await Stripling, but he can at least rest easy knowing that his ability to navigate the unknowns behind him has impressed.

"You never know how the season is going to play out, but Ross has had a great opportunity and really seized the moment," Roberts said. "Now and going forward, it's been a great learning process for Ross and I think his growth has been exponential."

Jack Baer is a reporter for MLB.com based in Los Angeles. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.