Most pitchers are happy to get out of the California League -- thrilled, ecstatic even. They want to leave behind hitter-friendly ballparks in High Desert, Lancaster and the like and never look back.
Ross Stripling, however, has a little more fondness for his first full-season league as a professional.
"On the one hand, yeah, I 'm definitely happy to get out of there, but at the same time, it's a great spot to start for a young pitcher like me," he said. "In that league, you're forced to get the ball down and really work on your game or else you're going to be punished. So it's a good way to be humbled and can help you grow for when you're able to get out."
Stripling was one of the lucky ones. He left the Cal League after only six starts, during which he went 2-0 with a 1.94 ERA for Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga. And it seems he's already taken those Golden State lessons to heart.
Making his Double-A debut on Saturday night, the Dodgers' No. 19 prospect recorded a career-high eight strikeouts and allowed one run on five hits and a walk over six innings as Chattanooga shut down Mobile, 4-1, at AT&T Field.
And while the results were there, so were the jitters associated with pitching at a new level.
"It really kicked in about 24 hours beforehand," said the 23-year-old right-hander, "but it was more of an anxious excitement. You start playing catch in the bullpen and start seeing the fans trickling in, but when you walk on the mound, it's finally hit you that, 'Hey, this is happening.'"
Stripling was able to keep everything in check in his opening frames, however, and retired the first 10 BayBears, six on strikeouts.
"All I really wanted to do is throw strikes to the first couple guys," he said, "because I knew that would help build up my confidence. And I used that to get out of some jams later as the game went on."
Indeed, the former Texas A&M star allowed two singles in the fourth and a leadoff base hit in the fifth but escaped both situations unscathed. Jon Griffin finally got to him with a two-out RBI single in the sixth, but when Mike Freeman was thrown out on a relay throw to the plate, it ended the Stripling's outing after 82 pitches, 55 for strikes.
Selected in the fifth round of last year's Draft, Stripling has been ticketed as a potential rising star in the Dodgers system, given his advanced age and vast college experience. (He was 10-4 with a 3.08 ERA for the Aggies last year and led the Big 12 conference with 125 2/3 innings pitched). Still, he believes not much should change, even as he quickly climbs the ladder.
"You still have to pitch your game," he said. "As much as you worry about things, once you let the ball go, it's literally out of your hands. You just have to go out there and focus on hitting your spots, and it's something where your success will take over from there."
But as fast as the right-hander may move through the Dodgers system, he still has more lessons to learn in the Southern League, including of all things slowing down.
"I never really hit before," Stripling said. "So when I got on base [on a fielder's choice in the fourth], I tried to get back on the mound a little too fast. My legs were a little wobbly to start the fifth from batting and getting on base. So I'll learn from that, that I should get a drink of water, calm myself down before getting back out. You can't rush those things."
Brian Cavazos-Galvez and Gorman Erickson hit solo homers in support of Stripling and Yimi Garcia pitched a perfect ninth for his league-leading ninth save.