SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – The arrival of spring training baby No. 2 for Ross Stripling and his wife Shelby came with far less uncertainty than spring training baby No. 1. Two years ago, the induction date for son Jaxon’s birth was delayed multiple times by a devastating winter storm that left millions in the Houston area without water and electricity for days. The ensuing chaos meant Stripling missed the opening of Toronto Blue Jays camp and spent weeks catching up.
This time around, he threw five innings for the San Francisco Giants on March 5, flew home for son Brodie’s birth, spent a few days helping the happy family settle in and was back on the mound Sunday against the Oakland Athletics, striking out six in 3.1 innings of work.
Most importantly, Shelby and the boys are healthy and happy.
“I miss them for sure but it’ll fly by, it always does,” says Stripling. “Get through these first few days which are tough and then we’ll both settle into routines and figure it out from there.”
Brodie’s birth isn’t the only big change for the family this spring, of course, as Stripling is also settling in with the Giants after signing a $25-million, two-year deal during the off-season.
While the surroundings at Scottsdale Stadium are new, several of the people around him are not. Fellow starter Alex Wood was part of his wedding party. Slugger Joc Pederson was his double-A roommate and teammate in L.A. Manager Gabe Kapler was his director of player development with the Dodgers, where president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi was the GM at the time. Lefty Scott Alexander was there, too.
They’ve all helped smooth the transition, which Stripling never stressed about anyway.
“I remember talking to my mom and she asked, ‘Are you nervous?’ I was like, ‘No, I’m going to have 80 new friends tomorrow,’” he says. “We’re used to coming into new locker rooms not knowing anyone and it’s all super formal at first, ‘Hi, I’m Ross, nice to meet you, where you from,’ and the next day you’re boys. It’s been great.”
It also almost didn’t happen, as Stripling drew serious interest from 8-10 clubs and went down the road with four teams, the Blue Jays among them. But Zaidi, who had a wild winter that included an unsuccessful run at Aaron Judge and deal for Carlos Correa that fell apart due to his physical, wasn’t going to be denied, making one last push to land the 33-year-old.
“I loved my time in Toronto and they were in the mix to the very end,” says Stripling. “Essentially what it came down to was the Giants offered me an opt-out after the first year and the Blue Jays wouldn’t. That made it a no-brainer, really. Even though I love the idea of having stability and knowing where I’m going to be for the next two years, I could be the next Chris Bassitt, in my mid-30s, coming off a good year and you’re a free agent again. Once (the opt-out) was on the board, it was like, man, you can’t walk away from that. It’s as simple as that.”
Stripling’s run with the Blue Jays coincided with nearly all the highs and lows of the franchise’s chaotic trek through the pandemic. Acquired in a deadline deal during the isolation season of 2020 in Buffalo, he lived through the Dunedin-Buffalo-Toronto grind and last day heartbreak of 2021 and the boot-to-the-stomach finish of the Game 2 collapse last year.
Starting the homecoming game July 30, 2021 “will go down as one of my favourite things I’ve ever done,” and in spite of all the hardships, “I loved it, I would have gone back in a heartbeat.”
“They literally had the same offer as the Giants,” he says, “just no opt-out.”
Whether the Blue Jays come to regret that down the road will play out in the months ahead, but they would have been hard-pressed to make the playoffs without Stripling’s emergence last year.
Hard as it is to believe now, Stripling started 2022 in the bullpen, jumped into the rotation when Hyun Jin Ryu got hurt, returned to the bullpen without a defined role once the lefty came back, then rejoined the staff when Ryu blew out his elbow. In between, the variance in his usage was underlined over two days in Anaheim, when he came in as an emergency closer May 28 to earn his first career save before throwing 1.2 innings of long relief the next afternoon.
By season’s end, he’d logged 134.1 innings over 32 games, 24 of them starts, and delivered 3.1 fWAR. His versatility and positive disposition is why new manager Kapler described him as “a perfect example of how to be a great teammate and put the team first.”
“The ability to execute in those situations is all based on mindset,” he continues. “You either feel like you can excel in that role or you feel like the role is too much for you. He really did a nice job in Toronto in that role. He knows his plan very well. He kind of embodies the philosophies that we have as a pitching department, pounding the strike zone, working fast and knowing his plan. … He’s the type of pitcher that you trust. You can throw information at him. You know that he’s going to be able to filter that information and that you can take a step back and be like, OK, he knows how to get on track for the season.”
Not that the Giants are planning to use him in any type of swing role.
Stripling will be a starter in a rotation that also includes Wood, Logan Webb, Alex Cobb and Sean Manaea and there’s some peace of mind for him in knowing his role this year, although he’s also cognizant of maintaining the edge the uncertainty has forced upon him.
“I do think my arsenal fits best as a starter,” says Stripling. “But you’ve got to continue to pitch almost with the weight of the world on your shoulders of saying, ‘No, this is my job and I’m not going to lose it.’ That’s how I’ve survived when I’ve gotten into the rotation, pitching with that mentality.”
At the same time, Stripling has earned rope, finding ways to evolve, adding a two-seamer, turning his change-up into a weapon, remaining unpredictable through the AL East meat-grinder, while bouncing between roles until he grabbed a rotation spot and didn’t let go.
On a personal level, it’s what he’s most proud of from his emergence last year.
“I was in no man’s land, trying to stay sharp as best I could, had no idea what was going on, probably not that far away from texting my agent, being like, what are we doing here? Then Hyun Jin gets hurt, I’m building up in the big leagues and go from there,” says Stripling. “Proud that the team stuck with me. I kept my head up through a tough little phase there and then took the role and ran with it. Just proud of how it all went down and by the end of the year, I was going to be the third starter in the playoffs after breaking in the bullpen, which is crazy.”
The Giants stand to be the beneficiaries of that growth, along with Stripling’s ability and willingness to take the ball anywhere, anytime and get hitters out.