Blue Jays RHP Ross Stripling changed almost everything about his game, and the results in his last two outings have been spectacular
Ross Stripling has become a pitcher who isn’t afraid to make adjustments, whether it’s his mechanics, his pitch selection, or, on a blustery day in Cleveland on Sunday, to combat the wind.
Less than two weeks ago, Stripling’s spot in the Toronto Blue Jays rotation was starting to look tenuous. He had just given up five runs in the first inning against the Boston Red Sox, his ERA on the season ballooning to 7.20, third-worst among pitchers with at least 25 innings. He knew he needed a change, but not just one; his entire approach on the mound needed a complete overhaul and quickly.
So he went to work with pitching coach Pete Walker and bullpen coach Matt Buschmann. Together, they had him tighten up his glove position during his windup. He had just five days to implement the changes before his next outing, but the results have been immediate. After seven shutout innings against the Rays last Monday, he threw five innings against the Indians on Sunday, giving up only two hits—both by Josh Naylor—and one run in a 4-1 Blue Jays win to begin a doubleheader at Progressive Field.
Against Boston on May 19, Stripling held his glove in front of him during his delivery, giving the batter a good look at the ball as he released it. Walker has had him start holding the glove closer to the body, hiding the ball until he’s ready to deliver it. If he was tipping his pitches before, it’s much less noticeable now.
His pitch selection has also undergone a significant change over his last two outings. Before his appearance in relief last week, Stripling was only using his fastball-changeup combination 58 percent of the time. In the 76 pitches he threw against the Rays, 15 were changeups and 37 were fastballs, accounting for 68 percent. The new approach was even more evident against Cleveland; 79 percent of his pitches on Sunday were either fastballs or changeups. Opponents are hitting a combined .392 against his curveball and slider this season, two pitches that have virtually disappeared from his arsenal.
Stripling’s new approach paying immediate dividends for the Toronto Blue Jays
Since giving up six runs and seven hits before recording an out in the second inning against Boston, Stripling has surrendered five hits and one run over his last 14.2 innings. The Red Sox got six hits with an exit velocity of at least 100 mph off him; he’s given up two since, his average exit
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velocity against Cleveland falling to 88 mph from 95 mph in his disastrous start 11 days earlier.
Stripling’s strategy against the Indians was forced on him by the cold, windy weather blowing in off Lake Erie. Knowing the command of his offspeed pitches would be unpredictable, he relied on his four-seam fastball early and often. He got seven outs with his fastball against only two hits, the opposing batting average on the pitch dropping from .276 to .269.
“Definitely was aggressive with the fastball. I think I only threw one off-speed in the first inning, then kind of stayed with the heater the first time through (the Indians lineup),” he said. “The thought there was be aggressive with the fastball and mix in the other stuff when I needed to.”
Over the last 30 seasons, the only other Blue Jays pitcher with consecutive outings of at least five innings, two or fewer hits, and no more than one run or two walks was Matt Shoemaker in 2019. Roy Halladay never had a stretch like that in a Blue Jays uniform. Neither did Marcus Stroman, David Price, or even Roger Clemens in his short stint in Toronto.
Stripling has now done it, and it’s thanks in large part to his willingness to recognize he needed to make adjustments. The doubleheader didn’t end on a positive note for the Blue Jays, but in the first game, they might have discovered a new dependable starting pitcher who bears no resemblance to the one who took the mound 11 days before.