SAN FRANCISCO — The plan communicated to Ross Stripling when the Giants placed him on the injured list in mid-August to heal his nagging back, he said, was “to take 15 days on this to be ready for September 1 and get it right for the home stretch.”
Well, the home stretch is here. Stripling made it clear he’s healthy. And it’s been more than a week since he was eligible to be activated.
If you’re wondering what the deal is, so is Stripling.
“I’m just in limbo,” he told the Bay Area News Group in an interview before Saturday’s game. “Where I’m at is I’m frustrated with the situation because I’m ready to help a team that’s fighting for a playoff chance to win baseball games. I’ve thrown a lot of very meaningful September innings for playoff teams and teams chasing playoff spots and I know what it takes to get outs at this stage of the season and I’m just watching from the sideline.”
Manager Gabe Kapler said, “we actually have a pretty good plan in place to have him back on the roster sooner rather than later.” But Stripling said he was given the impression that his activation was imminent on three occasions over the past week that never happened.
Last Friday, Stripling drove to Sacramento, where he was scheduled to throw three to four innings in a rehab start at Triple-A. He ended up only throwing one and, the next day, was off to meet the team in San Diego in case Alex Cobb, whose hip was bothering him, wasn’t ready to go.
“As I’m walking outside (the stadium in Sacramento), I got a call from (pitching coach Andrew Bailey), Kap and (trainer Dave Groeschner). They just said Cobb’s pretty beat up. We think it’s best if you don’t throw today and come to San Diego,’” Stripling said. “I said, ‘I drove two hours here, can I throw an inning?’”
Stripling accompanied the team to Chicago, where again, he said, “the plan was to get activated.”
“I get to Chicago, and it’s, ‘Hey Strip, we’re not gonna activate you here,” Stripling said. He threw a 45-pitch live session off the mound at Wrigley Field, “with no clarity really after that. … And I show up here yesterday and thought there was a good chance I’d get activated. I didn’t really hear anything from anybody. … From then I sought out information and found Farhan and Kapler and Bails and asked them, ‘What’s the plan here?’”
What they told him, he said, was that, essentially, there’s no room for him. The 29th man on a 28-man roster.
Keaton Winn, who threw five shutout innings behind Cobb that Sunday in San Diego, will start Sunday. While nothing has been finalized yet, Stripling said the indication is that they’ll have him throw another rehab outing rather than being activated this weekend.
Under MLB’s collective bargaining agreement, the maximum length for a rehab assignment for a pitcher is 30 days. What that means for Stripling, who threw his one inning at Sacramento on Sept. 1, is that the Giants are under no requirement to activate him until the last day of the season.
Stripling used the term “phantom IL,” though, he added, “nobody’s said that to me.”
“They may not like that that term is being used. It’s somewhere in the middle, right?” he said. “It’s bad luck of the timing that I’m healthy and Farhan likes the roster that he has. And I’m just sitting here healthy with nowhere to go.”
The season has not played out as Stripling envisioned when he signed a two-year, $25 million free-agent contract this past winter. The club is straddling .500 and hanging on to its playoff chances by a thread, while Stripling is on pace for the worst statistical season of his career. Those factors, no doubt, contributed to Stripling’s frustration spilling over and, club sources said, dissatisfaction from other pitchers unhappy about their roles and communication around it.
But, while nontraditional, Kapler’s use of his pitching staff has been effective. While not quite the 75% success rate they had through their first 20 bullpen games of the season, they have an 18-13 record with a 3.63 team ERA in games opened by Ryan Walker, Scott Alexander, John Brebbia and Jakob Junis.
“I think there was a world where we thought we had five really good starters and a sixth on deck for when we needed it,” Stripling said. “And, really, we’ve rocked two starters all year. … Guys have bought into it and understood that it’s been a successful tactic. I just don’t think it’s how any of us envisioned it.”
When he was introduced over the offseason, Stripling said one of the biggest draws was Zaidi’s pledge that he would start games. After oscillating between relief and starting roles, largely with a track record of success (a 3.78 career ERA before this season), he was seeking stability.
Coming off the best season of his career, posting a 3.01 ERA in 32 games (24 starts) for Toronto in 2022, Stripling arrived at spring training “really confident” and expecting a regular starting spot. In retrospect, he said, the back injury he suffered in an offseason training session never fully healed and plagued him all season. He was shelled in his debut at Yankee Stadium, and by the second week of the season had been relegated to the bullpen.
But, before his current stint on the IL, Stripling believed he had reclaimed a spot in the rotation. He had a 3.91 ERA over his previous 10 games, starting six of them, and, he would like to remind you, “I haven’t walked anybody since (expletive) June or something.” (It has been 42 straight innings, since July 2.)
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“I thought I’d do better,” he said. “Just the way that spring went, I didn’t get to a sharpness that I needed to get to to get big league hitters out and I kind of got one chance to start at Yankee Stadium right at the beginning of the year. After that it was a carousel for a lot of guys. Of role and situation.”
His contract, as well as Sean Manaea’s, included the ability to opt out after this season.
With 21 games remaining, Stripling wasn’t ready to discuss how the current situation impacts his thinking toward this offseason. He wants to pitch.
“It certainly instills the idea that you need to have continued success, or you’re not sure what’s next for you,” he said of the Giants’ pitching philosophy. “It kind of stinks to be the odd man out.”