My how times have changed. We know that a complete game is a rare thing now, and everything is about pitch counts, but the exception to that rule recently has been if a pitcher was chasing something even rarer—a no-hitter. Not anymore.
Not only did new Dodgers manager Dave Roberts remove Ross Stripling one hundred pitches into his first major league start, the rookie skipper is actually getting praise for it. Roberts called the decision a “no brainer”. Stripling himself said Roberts did the right thing. His dad actually sought out Roberts at the team hotel to thank him for looking out for his son. Are you kidding?
Leading 2-0 with one out in the eighth inning Friday in San Francisco, Stripling walked Angel Pagan—his fourth free pass of the night. Roberts then went out and removed Stripling and brought in Chris Hatcher, who subsequently gave up a two-run homer to Trevor Brown to tie the game. The Dodgers went on to lose 3-2 in 10 innings.
It should also be noted that even though Stripling walked four batters, he did not seem tired. After the Brown homer, pinch-hitter Ehire Adrianza walked, and Roberts was ejected from the game for arguing balls and strikes. Stripling, who did have Tommy John surgery (an elbow ligament replacement) in 2014, was denied a chance at history. Never in modern baseball (since 1900) has a pitcher thrown a no-hitter in his major league debut, and the only other time it happened was in 1892. Cincinnati's Bumpus “Moonshine” Jones did not allow a hit against the Pittsburgh Pirates on the final day of the season.
While Roberts would likely not know the exact date and circumstances, his decision to remove Stripling probably dates back to June of 2012. Johan Santana, coming off of shoulder surgery, pitched the first no-hitter in New York Mets history, but needed 134 pitches to do it. Santana was never really the same after that, and while Santana has said he has no regrets, his manager Terry Collins does. Three years after that game, Collins told the New York Post that he has been “haunted” by the decision to leave him in.
Stripling's case, though, is completely different. Recovery time from Tommy John surgery is about 11 to 15 months, and pitchers do get eased back into things. But a hundred pitches is an arbitrary number. There's no more of a chance that he will re-injure himself if he throws 110 pitches or if he throws 90. This was also his first start of the season, so his arm was fresh. He would have several days to rest afterwards. Also, pitching coaches and former pitchers will tell you that it's not necessarily the number of pitches you throw, but how many “stressful” pitches, or situations that may have greater pressure. Not allowing a hit means few baserunners, so not a lot of stress. The next batter could have hit into a double play, and then perhaps he has a stress-free ninth. We'll never know.
The blame for this really shouldn't fall on Roberts, but on today's baseball society. As salaries soar, and the babying of pitchers continues, you'll likely see a day fairly soon where starters will only go once a week, and will only be expected to work five innings. That day is not here yet, and Roberts really only has the company line and modern day baseball thinking as reasons for his decision. Even Giants fans booed Roberts for robbing them at a chance to see history. It would have been worse in Los Angeles. This was not Johan Santana. This was not a rookie's arm about to fall off. While it may seem like it took guts to make the decision to pull Stripling, it was the opposite. They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression? You never get a second chance to make history in your first outing.
Strike two: Less than 24 hours after what might have been, Roberts fell into another of today's modern traps, but actually got away with this one. With the Giants going with left hander Madison Bumgarner Saturday, Roberts filled out a mostly right-handed hitting lineup (Adrian Gonzalez was the only lefty). That's fine, but it left guys like Corey Seager, Chase Utley, and Joc Pederson in the dugout. When Bumgarner game out, Roberts put all of those guys in, and had completely depleted his bench by the eighth inning. That means no pinch-hitters available if the game goes extra innings, which it did. The Dodgers won 3-2 in 10 innings, and did not need to hit for the pitcher.
Minor insanity: Since we're looking at things that are really stupid in baseball these days, how about this? Remember last year when the Baltimore Orioles played a home game in an empty stadium because of unrest in the city following the death of Freddie Gray—a black man who died while in police custody? That game was in April, and there was no need to play the game that day, or at least could have been moved to another location. This, however, is stupider. With inclement weather in Syracuse, the Triple-A Chiefs postponed their entire season-opening four-game series against Lehigh Valley. Desperate to get some games in, they moved two games to Pennsylvania, but due to construction at the ball park, fans were not permitted to attend, so a doubleheader was played in an empty house Friday afternoon. Again, this was a season opening series, meaning they had six months to figure out how to get the games in. Keep that in mind the next time you hear that baseball is “all about the fans.” By the way, Yuba City's Brock Stassi is a member of the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs and was 1-for-3 in those two games at the empty stadium. Syracuse swept the eerie doubleheader 5-1 and 2-1.
More Stassi: Younger brother Max is on the disabled list with an injured hand, but Brock is featured in Sports Illustrated. Well, not featured exactly, but his name was mentioned. At the bottom of the magazine's baseball preview about the Phillies' grim present but hopeful future, it says “A kid named Brock Stassi, a left handed hitting first baseman, has really come on offensively. Charlie Manuel's going back to their minor league system, traveling around and helping their young hitters, has really made a positive impact.” Pretty cool, right?
Must see TV: Ken Burns' two-part documentary on Jackie Robinson airs tonight and tomorrow on PBS, and will re-air several times. Friday is the 69th anniversary of Robinson becoming the first black player in major league baseball. Each episode is two hours long.