Ross Stripling isn’t fuming. He’s not throwing tantrums, complaining to his agent or causing distractions in the Giants’ clubhouse.
But, recovered from a mild mid-back strain, he’s frustrated that he’s still on the injured list. He’s completely ready to pitch and wants an opportunity to do so with the Giants’ postseason chances in the balance.
For him to get that chance, the Giants must activate the eight-year veteran off the 15-day IL — which he’s been on since Aug. 17.
“Obviously, I want to pitch,” Stripling told KNBR at his locker on Saturday. “I feel like I can help the team win. I’ve thrown a lot of September innings for playoff teams and teams that have competed for the playoffs. So I know what it takes to get outs this time of year. But it’s not my job to configure a roster. It’s tough to sit on the sidelines when you feel like you’re ready and able to help. I’ll be ready when they need. You’ve got to think a situation will arise, but who knows?”
With 21 games left, the Giants are waiting for the best moment for both the club and Stripling to activate the right-hander. That could come in a couple days, and the Giants have been trying to keep Stripling in the loop, but uncertainty still looms. A few factors complicate the Giants’ decision-making process.
First, Stripling has objectively struggled this year. He signed a two-year, $25 million contract with an opt-out clause this winter, flexing his versatility and coming off his best season. He went 10-4 with a 3.01 in the vaunted American League East last year, but with the Giants, he’s posted a 5.29 ERA while allowing 20 home runs in 19 games.
Most clubs competing for a wild card spot wouldn’t be in a rush to bring that kind of pitcher back, particularly when they have their current options on the pitching staff.
Only Ryan Walker, Camilo Doval, Kyle Harrison, Tyler Rogers, Logan Webb and Keaton Winn have options on the current 28-man roster. Winn is the only one of those who could have a realistic case to get sent down to Sacramento.
Winn tossed five scoreless innings in San Diego last week and is expected to pitch in Sunday’s series finale against the Rockies — a game with TBA listed as San Francisco’s starter. If the rookie continues to impress and the rest of the pitchers stay healthy, Stripling’s path off the injured list is murky.
“From what I understand, Harrison and Keaton are going to get some runway, and I’m just kind of insurance for when something happens,” Stripling said. “That’s kind of what’s going on.”
Then there’s the issue of exactly when and for what role to activate Stripling. Stripling is currently built up to about 50 pitches, he said. If he ramps up to 70-plus in a rehab game or live bullpen session, he wouldn’t be able to pitch again for a few days, potentially limiting his availability when that may be the most paramount quality to have.
Giants manager Gabe Kapler said “we actually have a pretty good plan in place” to bring Stripling back “sooner rather than later.”
“I think we’re always kind of balancing building a player up and getting them ready for whatever the team is going to need,” Kapler said. “So a lot of it is just about sharpness, it’s about the build-up, and it’s about the health. We try to combine all of those things and then make the best possible decision for the player and the team.”
Pitchers on the 15-day injured list are required to remain out of action for at least 15 days, but a player can also stay on the list considerably longer than 15 days if necessary. As it stands now, the Giants need Stripling on the IL more than he needs to be on the IL.
San Francisco’s coaching staff, which prides itself on communication, hasn’t left Stripling in the dark. But the pitcher described his status as “in limbo.”
The uncomfortable situation began when he first hit the injured list on Aug. 17 with a mid-back strain. At that point, he’d started to find his rhythm, posting a 3.91 ERA in 10 games (six starts). In that span, he’d struck out 35 batters while walking just one.
But Stripling’s back — which had bothered him in the past — flared up a bit. He and the team decided to put him on the injured list to help him be totally healthy to contribute in September.
“It’s kind of funky because I feel like I was throwing the ball well,” Stripling said. “I could’ve kept pitching, but we kind of chose to knock this out and be ready for September 1. Here were are on Sept. 9, still in limbo.”
Stripling’s frustrations have only intensified as his injured list stint has extended, and the lines of communication have at times transmitted mixed messaging.
Right before Stripling’s Sept. 1 rehab assignment start for the River Cats, as he was walking out onto the field, he received a call from a Giants coach telling him that he might be needed in San Diego if Alex Cobb — coming off his 131-pitch start — couldn’t pitch in San Diego.
Stripling, who drove two hours up to Sacramento, figured that since he’d already made the trip, he’d at least face some hitters. He pitched an inning for Sacramento then flew down to San Diego ready to be activated for SF’s Sept. 3 game.
Cobb powered through, though, and made his regularly scheduled start.
“I don’t know that he was ready in San Diego,” Kapler said of Stripling on Saturday.
The Giants kept Stripling on the taxi squad and brought him to Chicago, where he threw a three-inning live bullpen session against Michael Conforto.
Stripling said he wants a daily update from the coaching staff about what they’re thinking. Those conversations have become more regular in the past couple days, he said.
“Essentially, what it is is: ‘What do you need, Strip, to be ready for when we need you?’” Stripling said of the nature of those conversations. “Kind of a day-to-day thing. For instance, I was maybe supposed to throw and build up more tomorrow, but then let’s say I throw 70 pitches, then I’m down for four days? So is that really the right call? Is it the right call to build up? To stay sharp? So it’s kind of ever-changing. As of now, I don’t think I’m doing that tomorrow, but it’s not for sure yet. That game starts at 1, so it’s now 22 hours away from that game and I don’t necessarily know.”
There’s a scenario in which the Giants activate Stripling Monday and all of these dark clouds evaporate. It’s highly unlikely that Stripling will be shelved for the rest of the season, but not impossible.
No matter how the situation plays out, Stripling will have to make a decision on his $12.5 million option for 2024 at the end of the season. He said his current status’ impact on his future with the Giants hasn’t yet crept into his mind.
In any clubhouse, in any season, it’s normal for players to be frustrated with their roles, particularly if they’re personally struggling and their team is losing — like the Giants have in the second half.
The Giants aren’t necessarily doing Stripling a disservice, yet he has a right to feel dissatisfied. They’re not breaking any rules, but wouldn’t have to bend them if Stripling had performed as well as he did last year.
In this case, there’s no real villain. Just two parties trying to navigate tough circumstances.