New ace? Anderson's latest gem a 1-hit start

September 13th, 2020

With Ian Anderson showing the fortitude of a veteran to help the Braves claim a 2-1 win over the Nationals on Saturday night at Nationals Park, Atlanta manager Brian Snitker likely started to feel even better about how much improvement his rotation might show over the season’s final couple of weeks.

“Every game is important at this point of the season and every win is important,” Anderson said. “We’re super excited about tonight’s win. I think it showed a lot about the guys in here. We’re looking forward to what is coming up.”

Anderson enhanced the upcoming excitement by surrendering one hit -- Asdrúbal Cabrera’s fourth-inning bunt single against the shift -- over seven scoreless innings to earn his third win in four career starts. The highly regarded prospect became the first Braves pitcher to go seven innings this year.

More impressive is the fact Anderson is now one of two pitchers over the last 120 years to allow one hit or fewer in two starts of at least six innings in his first four career appearances. The other was former Braves reliever Marvin Freeman, who debuted as a starter for the 1986 Phillies.

“It’s nice to get up here and have things go well for a few [starts],” Anderson said. “It kind of reassures you, and you can take off from there.”

Anderson’s impressive effort was immediately supported by Ronald Acuña Jr., who had been carried off the field after fouling a pitch off his left ankle during Friday night’s 8-7 loss in 12 innings. Showing there were no lingering effects, Acuña singled, stole second and scored on Marcell Ozuna’s RBI single off Patrick Corbin in the first inning. Ozzie Albies added the Braves' second run with a two-out RBI single in the fourth.

How refreshing was it for Snitker to see a starter complete seven innings? Well, this marked just the 11th time through 46 games a Braves starter completed at least six innings. Max Fried has accounted for four of those starts. Anderson, who is less than three weeks into his career, is responsible for three others.

With Anderson impressing in those three starts and Fried expecting to come off the injured list on Friday, the Braves can finally get excited about a rotation that entered Saturday with a National League-worst 6.22 ERA. This group will also soon be fortified by veteran Cole Hamels, who is expected to make his season debut on Wednesday in Baltimore.

“Hopefully, all of those guys will step up and do what we think they can,” Snitker said.

Anderson worked around consecutive walks in a 29-pitch second inning and then needed just nine pitches to complete a perfect third against Washington’s top three hitters. He got a called strike or a swing and miss with half of the 18 curveballs he threw. Having that pitch working with his always-effective changeup led to a career-high nine strikeouts, seven of which were registered after the third.

“I think he did a good job,” Nationals shortstop Trea Turner said. “Early on, we took our walks and he was a little wild. But then he settled in and he wasn’t afraid to throw that changeup in any count, which I think is a big benefit for him and made it tough on us. He just used all three pitches, had some velo, just a good outing by him."

Adding to the satisfaction of Anderson’s dominant outing is the fact it came five days after he had issued four walks while needing 83 pitches to complete just three innings against the Marlins. He blamed himself for allowing his throwing error in the second inning to adversely affect him mentally in that outing.

Anderson could have allowed things to snowball yet again after walking Eric Thames and Yan Gomes to begin the second inning. Instead, he retired the following six batters in order and showed why he has always been described as being mentally strong.

“He had that confident look back again tonight once he got through that second inning,” Snitker said.