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Stripling's past put Roberts in tough spot

Manager forced to weigh history against pitcher's health
April 9, 2016

Ross Stripling had Tommy John surgery two years ago. We hear that and think, "Oh, right, his elbow blew out and they put it back together and he came back good as new," because ligament replacement surgery is unfortunately that ubiquitous in our baseball world these days that we equate

Ross Stripling had Tommy John surgery two years ago. We hear that and think, "Oh, right, his elbow blew out and they put it back together and he came back good as new," because ligament replacement surgery is unfortunately that ubiquitous in our baseball world these days that we equate it to getting a cavity filled. But in reality, it's a precarious procedure even when it goes smoothly, and Stripling's was a particularly precarious case.
This guy had surgery before the surgery.
Stripling's elbow was so inflamed, had gone so past the point of normal human effort and erosion, that Dr. Neal ElAttrache had to do an arthroscopic procedure on it to remove loose bodies before he could even get in there and replace the tendon in the medial elbow a month later.
None of this medical context is very fun when you're tuning into a ballgame and on full no-hitter alert. We harp on history. We root for rarity. We want to see the unforeseen. And it's true that there are very few things in the legitimate realm of possibility in this 2016 Major League season that would have qualified as rarer or more unforeseen than a Stripling no-hitter in his debut.
But the context matters, as we saw when Dave Roberts, in just his fifth game as a big league skipper, walked out to that mound at AT&T Park and removed Stripling from the start of his life, one out into the eighth inning of a no-hitter.
Dodgers fans booed. Even Giants fans booed. And you know if those two respective crowds are in agreement on something, we have an extreme situation on our hands.
Roberts defends decision
This, undoubtedly, was that. It was a moment overstuffed with intrigue. The "get off my lawn" crowd has already been decrying the supposed "wussification" of baseball because of a new slide rule that prevents undue contact at the second-base bag, and now we've got a rookie skipper robbing a guy of his potential date with destiny because of a silly little thing like a pitch count.
And then, just to make this story even crazier and even harder for Dodgers fans to fathom, Chris Hatcher comes on in relief of Stripling with a guy on base via a walk and proceeds to give up the game-tying home run to Trevor Brown. And then the Dodgers lose it, 3-2, in the 10th on a Brandon Crawford walk-off homer in the rain.
Every Major League club goes into the season knowing it is likely to lose at least 62 games. But you would never expect to lose a game like that.
In every facet, this was a stunning sequence of events not soon to be lost to the fragility of memory. Because rare as it is to see a pitcher flirt with the specific realm of history Stripling entertained (as far as we know, the only other pitcher to throw a no-hitter in his debut was Cincinnati's Bumpus Jones… in 1892), it's almost as rare to see history snuffed out not by the opposing lineup, but by choice.
It's doubtful Bumpus Jones was on a pitch count.
Still, just as the new slide rule was instituted under the totally laudable and understandable premise of keeping players healthy, so, too, was the limit the Dodgers placed upon Stripling, their surprise fifth starter. Instinctually, we might want to see the familiar aggression of takeout slides and pitchers pushing past perceived limits. But if we step back from the emotion of a moment and look at things ethically, these can be difficult situations to celebrate. Entertainment value ought not outweigh a player's ability to avoid serious, potentially career-ending harm.
I say all this not knowing if the admittedly arbitrary cutoff point of 100 pitches is really going to save Stripling from trouble down the line. How could I possibly know?
All I know -- and all the Dodgers know -- is that the 26-year-old had never thrown 100 pitches in his pro career. And again, he missed all of the 2014 season after the dual elbow procedures and pitched just 71 1/3 innings last year.
That's context that screams for caution, even if the situation Stripling (to his credit) put himself in screamed for a devil-may-care dalliance with history.
And if we're going to agree that nobody knows if 100 pitches is a worthwhile cutoff point, we should also go ahead and agree that nobody knows if a guy five outs from a no-hitter is capable of finishing the job. Especially in the context of a close game in which he had just walked a batter.
We'll never know. And that's a shame.
Stripling could have instantly become pitching's answer to Trevor Story, a rookie player doing something never done before in the modern era. And of course, had he finished the job, the Dodgers would have won the game, which is no small point.
So it's easy -- and totally natural -- for those of us on the outside of the Dodgers' decision-making process to bemoan what happened here. We might very well have been robbed of something spectacular, and, worse yet, the decision might have robbed the Dodgers of a W.
But it was not long ago that Stripling was robbed of a year and a half of his professional career. And though it's impossible to know if this bit of caution will prevent Stripling from further elbow trauma, you can't blame the Dodgers for taking his personal medical context into account.
Just be glad you weren't the one who had to pull him.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.