Stripling to 'be a goldfish' after rough start

Right-hander allows six runs, records just one out in first inning

July 20th, 2021

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- It didn't take long for the Blue Jays to learn that the Red Sox aren't the Rangers. One day after sweeping Texas to close out a dominant weekend at Sahlen Field, Toronto found itself stuck in a never-ending first inning.

Boston plated eight runs before Toronto came to bat, chasing after he recorded just one out in the top of the first. The 13-4 loss was never close, and while three wins over the Rangers offered an encouraging look at the Blue Jays' dominant potential, any run in the American League East or the AL Wild Card race needs to be fueled by wins against division rivals.

Monday wasn't kind to the Blue Jays' rotation, and that starts with Stripling, of course. Boston has had Stripling's number in 2021, scoring 16 runs against him over just 9 2/3 innings, and nothing he threw was successful in the first. Stripling had an exceptional run of eight outings from late May to early July, posting a 2.35 ERA while holding opponents to a .177 average, but his last two haven't followed the same trend.

Stripling was candid following the loss, saying that he felt in a "weird mental space" on the mound. On Wednesday, when the Blue Jays leave Buffalo for a road trip and carry on to Toronto, Stripling says he'll be saying goodbye to his wife and 5-year-old son, who will be staying in the United States. It's been weighing heavily on him, and when he doesn't have his best stuff, either, a start like Monday's happens.

Instead of going back to the drawing board, though, like Stripling did after the Red Sox hit him hard earlier this season, he's taking a different approach this time.

"I choose to -- if you guys watch 'Ted Lasso' -- be a goldfish," Stripling said. "Forget it. Move on from it. These guys have my number, but now I look on to the Mets. I'm not focused on this one, not like last one [against Boston] when we totally scrapped it and did new things mechanically. I don't feel that way. I don't feel like I did the last time."

Just prior to first pitch, the Blue Jays got more bad news. Alek Manoah, who slipped down some dugout steps in the rain at Sahlen Field, was placed on the IL with a right back contusion. The 23-year-old has fit perfectly in Toronto's rotation, matching the energy of the young team while putting up a 2.90 ERA over his first eight starts in the big leagues. He forced the Blue Jays' hand with a brilliant start to the season at Triple-A Buffalo, but doing this after pitching just 35 career innings in the Minor Leagues has given the rotation a surprise boost.

Now, a rotation that had quietly become a strength of the Blue Jays -- or at least done enough to consistently set the table for this potent lineup -- isn't as sturdy.

Anthony Kay was in consideration for another crack as a starter, but after allowing five runs over 1 1/3 innings behind Stripling when the Blue Jays needed more, that's now unlikely. Instead, it's Thomas Hatch who is finally looking at an opportunity after injuries slowed his start to the season. Hatch remains an underrated piece of this organization, and one Toronto projects as a member of its rotation going forward, but the depth behind these names is thin.

The next question with Hatch is whether he's just making a spot start or competing for a permanent job.

"For right now, he's throwing in Manoah's spot," manager Charlie Montoyo said after the loss. "We'll go from there and see how Manoah is doing. We'll see how he does, of course, but for right now, he's starting tomorrow. That's all we know right now."

T.J. Zeuch recently left a start with an injury, and while the Triple-A Bisons have Jacob Waguespack pitching well with a 3.20 ERA over 45 innings, the 40-man roster and prospect ranks don't offer that obvious "next arm up" beyond Hatch. In a perfect world, No. 1 prospect Nate Pearson would be stepping into a major role at this point, but recurring groin injuries have him sidelined yet again, continuing a worrying trend.

A loss like Monday's is an outlier, of course, but with August approaching and the Trade Deadline less than two weeks away, each game against a division rival carries weight. The last time these two teams faced one another and split four games in Boston, it was the Blue Jays who piled on with an 18-4 win. As this balances out and the games grow tighter, Toronto will need its rotation to lead the run through August and September.