Dodgers Creativity Pays Off in Arizona with 3–2 Win

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - APRIL 25: Starting pitcher Ross Stripling #68 of the Los Angeles Dodgers delivers the ball against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on April 25, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - APRIL 25: Starting pitcher Ross Stripling #68 of the Los Angeles Dodgers delivers the ball against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on April 25, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

In the era of openers, high-leverage situations, and a bullpen lacking defined roles, it makes sense now more than ever for the Dodgers to throw their best arms, however, makes the most efficient use of their talents.

Even if you’re already in first place in your division as the Dodgers are, there is always room to grow the gap between you and your opponents.

And so, on Tuesday, June 25, the Dodgers employed no one pitcher for more than 3 innings. In doing so, the Dodgers beat the Dbacks 3–2, thanks to solid pitching and some clutch hitting and defense.

Heading into the game, the team had two options to start the game: the highly-touted Julio Urias and the 2018 All-Star Ross Stripling. Now, most teams, for example, the Diamondbacks, would be lucky to have two pitchers of this caliber on their roster in general, let alone as the fifth and sixth options to start a game for the Dodgers.

But the Dodgers are not most teams. They were presented with an injury to the oft-injured Rich Hill, a fixture in the starting rotation, and the team was forced to choose between two solid options to go up against Zach Greinke’s Dbacks.

Or so traditional baseball lore would say. But the Dodgers and most teams in 2019 don’t abide by traditional rules. Instead, they fight to win, and in doing so break down past precedents and unwritten rules and regulations in the name of pursuing victory efficiently.

On this warm June night in Arizona, Dave Roberts and the Dodgers decided to break down the roles of starting pitchers beyond what has been done by other teams around the league. At least  on the surface.

While yes, the Dodgers started starting pitcher Ross Stripling, he only pitched for 3 innings, surrendering 1 earned run on 4 hits with 4 strikeouts. This is just about the average length Stripling has been tossing for the Dodgers over the past few months, but likely not the maximum number of innings he could have tossed.

In 2018, if Stripling started a game and allowed just 1 earned run and 4 hits in 3 innings of work, he would more than likely be asked to trot back out onto the bump to continue his night.

And yet that’s not what happened. Instead, Stripling came out of the game. And four more Dodgers finished off the win for him. Though he didn’t earn the win officially of course.

Joe Kelly came in and threw a scoreless inning when called upon. And in 3 innings of work, Julio Urias came in and did the same, holding the hosting Rattlers to 1 hit and 1 walk during his reign as King of the Hill. Baez and Jansen held onto the lead to finish off the non-traditional game in a traditional fashion, sealing the deal for the Dodgers’ 55th win of the season.

Normally, this sequence of marching out two separate starters for abridged outings would shock me into saying that the Dodgers were acting creatively and were being wildly imaginative in a time period in which this is becoming the norm around baseball. And in part that’s what I did for the most part during this article.

But really, after getting over the shock of the initial “split-start”, I came to my senses and realized how sensical this move way, even in its genius.

Ross Stripling and Julio Urias are both effective MLB starters, which in turn makes them just as effective out of the bullpen in rapid succession. More importantly, Urias and Stripling both were not fully stretched out heading into this game.

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Attempting to throw either of them for more than once or twice through the lineup may have resulted in a disastrous stretch in the middle innings, during which the shoddily constructed bullpen would have had to work through whatever mess the starter would put them through.

Additionally, starting the game with a righty and following that righty with a lefty later in the game is sort of a powerful way to disrupt the game plan of the opposing manager. How do you deal with constructing a lineup that has to face a righty and a lefty with starter-level stuff in the same game?

The answer is something I haven’t been paid to answer (yet), but I’m sure Lovullo and crafty other managers around the league will be doing plenty of thinking on the subject.

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Long story short, I hope to see this strategy employed again by the Dodgers, both with the Stripling/Urias pairing and also potentially with Kenta Maeda as his innings are controlled for and for Rich Hill upon easing him back into playoff mode once he (hopefully soon) returns from the IL.