Stripling cruises in Game 1 win vs. Tribe

May 30th, 2021

For his second consecutive start, was one adjustment ahead, and he’s starting to turn his season around entirely.

The pivot point came back on May 19, when Stripling allowed six runs over 3 2/3 innings against the Red Sox and wasn’t fooling anybody. The veteran right-hander was realistic as always, saying that he might need to go back to the drawing board all together, and that’s exactly what he did.

Stripling came out in his last start and gave the Blue Jays seven shutout innings, making major adjustments to his pitch tipping and timing. Then, in Sunday’s 4-1 win over Cleveland in the first half of the doubleheader, Stripling added another wrinkle.

Stripling isn’t a fastball guy. He’ll tell you that himself, but the numbers back it up, with fastball usage around 45% the past two seasons, which is even high by his standards. He uses the pitch to set hitters up, but it’s not often a putaway pitch that he’s blowing by someone. That’s why it was surprising to see Stripling take the mound at Progressive Field on Sunday and open with nine straight heaters, eventually finishing the inning with 10 fastballs on 11 pitches.

This was part strategy and part reaction from Stripling. He’d prefer to have his fastball usage in the high 30s, not at 54% like it was Sunday, but the windy conditions in Cleveland played a role.

“The wind was at my back,” Stripling explained. “If you throw a curveball with the wind at your back, it will kind of push it. Some of my changeups, you could see, were even belt high or higher. I was working hard to get the offspeed stuff middle or down in the zone with how the wind was working. I definitely was aggressive with the fastball.”

By the time Cleveland’s lineup came around the second time, Stripling turned back to his more traditional pitch mix, but it was clear that the Indians’ hitters weren’t expecting him to jump on them early with the fastball. This allowed him to breeze through the first few innings on 33 pitches. Sustaining this recent success is the challenge, of course. Stripling owned a 7.20 ERA after that ugly start against Boston, and staying ahead is far more difficult than getting ahead in the game of adjustments, but he’s taken care of the first steps.

The Blue Jays’ offense got things rolling early with some good luck. Marcus Semien and Joe Panik both had catchable pop flies drop in for hits, while Rowdy Tellez rolled a ball off the end of his bat that caught the edge of third base before rolling slowly into the outfield. The first run to cross came on a ground ball from Bo Bichette that should have been a double play, but the throw to first was simply dropped.

It wasn’t all free handouts, though. Teoscar Hernández launched a towering, 433-foot shot to left field in the fourth and was soon followed by Rowdy Tellez, who hit a solo shot of his own that he certainly needed.

Tellez hasn’t carried over his hot 2020 season and was optioned to Triple-A earlier this season. This was the big first baseman’s third homer of the season, and first since May 9, so the Blue Jays will need to see more of the same after this very encouraging sign Sunday. Given that Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is locked in as the everyday first baseman and Tellez doesn’t have much positional versatility, he needs to put up power numbers to keep his spot in this lineup.