'Electric' Strider breaks Big Unit's strikeout record

Braves rookie reaches 200-K milestone faster than any pitcher in AL/NL history

September 18th, 2022

ATLANTA -- Even though had just playfully jabbed him for not making what would have been a miraculous catch, Michael Harris II was willing to give his fellow Braves rookie one of the best compliments a pitcher could currently receive.

“I think he’s right under [Jacob] deGrom honestly,” Harris said. “I think he has the same kind of effect toward hitters that deGrom has.”

Harris was just one of the many Braves praising Strider after he helped them claim a 5-2 win over the Phillies on Sunday afternoon at Truist Park. The young hurler notched his sixth double-digit strikeout performance and became the franchise’s first rookie in the Modern Era (since 1900) to record a 200-strikeout season.

“The fastball he has is electric,” Braves outfielder Robbie Grossman said. “Obviously, I’ve never faced him, but I asked [Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins] today and he said, ‘Yeah, it’s a really good 98-100 [mph].”

Strider reached 200 strikeouts at exactly 130 innings, quicker than any other pitcher in AL/NL history. Randy Johnson had previously set the record when he needed 130 2/3 innings to notch 200 strikeouts in 2001. Gerrit Cole had ranked second, needing 133 1/3 innings to reach the mark in 2019.

“I've been so impressed with the guy and the work ethic and the consistency and the person and how he goes about his thing, and how he’s handled himself on the mound and how he can slow the game down,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “It’s just the whole package. It’s very, very impressive.”

With Strider carrying a no-hit bid into the sixth inning and Grossman tallying a couple of key extra-base hits, the Braves completed a three-game sweep of the Phillies and remained one game behind the first-place Mets in the National League East.

Strider allowed just one run and one hit while notching 10 strikeouts over six innings. The only hit was an Alec Bohm sixth-inning homer that Harris nearly prevented when he scaled the center-field wall and managed to get his glove on the ball.

“They could have just put the greatest catch of the year in the vault had he caught that one,” Snitker said.

“I’m really mad I got a glove on it and didn’t come down with it,” Harris said.

Quite honestly, it didn’t look like Harris had a chance before the ball actually deflected off his glove. But that didn’t stop Strider from providing this comical response.

“I told [Harris] I would have caught that one easily,” Strider said. “When I’m patrolling the wall during [batting practice], I’ve made some pretty spectacular catches. Mike and these young kids have a long way to go.”

The Braves gave the 21-year-old Harris his MLB debut on May 28 and moved Strider from the bullpen to the rotation on May 30, when they were 23-25 and 8 1/2 games back in the NL East race. They were 2-10 in games started by their fifth or sixth starters before that change was made.

Nearly four months later, the Braves have gone 13-7 in games started by Strider, who has posted a 2.77 ERA in those 20 outings. Not bad for a guy who started 2021 at the Single-A level and entered this year with just 21 professional starts. He also totaled just 10 starts at Clemson before the Braves drafted him in the fourth round of the 2020 MLB Draft.

Still, here is Strider having done something John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Warren Spahn didn’t do at the start of their respective Hall of Fame careers. The only previous Braves rookies to record 200 strikeouts in a season were Bill Stemmyer (239 in 1886) and Kid Nichols (222 in 1890). Each of those pitchers tossed more than 350 innings.

“I have high expectations for myself, but like I said, I don't think you can pinpoint specific checkpoints to try and achieve,” Strider said. “Striking out 200 guys in a season wasn’t a goal of mine. It was just to keep us in games and to win games.”

Strider entered this season looking like a potential setup man or a future closer. He will exit it with a chance to win this year’s NL Rookie of the Year Award and the capability to compete for multiple Cy Young Awards throughout his promising career.

“It’s an awesome story,” Snitker said.