Strider to see major 'pen role with Matzek on IL

May 17th, 2022

MILWAUKEE -- Spencer Strider could have helped the Braves’ rotation while serving as a starter or an opener. But it looks like there is now a greater need for the hard-throwing rookie to fill the latest bullpen void created by Tyler Matzek’s left shoulder discomfort.  

After Ian Anderson’s wild pitch and another strikeout-filled night for the offense led to a 1-0 loss to the Brewers at American Family Field on Monday night, Braves manager Brian Snitker revealed Matzek will go on the injured list. This revelation made it easier to understand why Strider relieved Anderson instead of starting Tuesday night’s game in Milwaukee.

“When you lose a guy of [Matzek’s] caliber, we may need Strider to fill those late-inning leverage innings,” Snitker said. “I like how he responded today.”

Strider’s two scoreless frames of relief and Anderson’s nearly scoreless, six-inning effort were really the only positives on a day when the Braves struck out 16 times. This wasn’t one of those games when the shadows were aiding Ben Sheets or any other Milwaukee pitcher who has frustrated Atlanta in the past. This was just a dominant performance by Freddy Peralta, Devin Williams and Josh Hader.

Speaking of Hader, Matzek performed much like the Brewers’ closer when he burst on the scene for Atlanta in 2020 and then became a postseason hero last year. Unfortunately, this year hasn’t been the same for the Atlanta southpaw, who has a 5.06 ERA over 13 appearances (10 2/3 innings). 

Matzek started out the year fine, but as April ended and May arrived, he battled command issues. There was reason to wonder if he was grappling with the yips again. But it appears the problem was his left shoulder, which may have been affected by mechanical adjustments he made to deal with a sore back he brought to Spring Training. 

“It was probably two weeks or three weeks [ago] that my shoulder started feeling uncomfortable,” Matzek said. “I think I was just compensating for the lack of mobility in my back. I felt good trying to get through the back [issue]. I think it just spiraled into another thing.” 

Matzek will undergo an MRI exam in Atlanta on Wednesday. While he is hopefully optimistic about the diagnosis, he is somewhat concerned because his discomfort is more than just normal shoulder soreness.  

The Braves lost Luke Jackson to Tommy John surgery during Spring Training and now they will spend some time without Matzek, who became an Atlanta legend when he posted a 1.72 ERA and struck out 40 percent (24 of 60) of the batters he faced during last year’s postseason. 

Matzek and Jackson were two of the four primary members of The Night Shift, which may now consider Strider among its ranks. Strider has built strong credentials while posting a 2.75 ERA over eight appearances (19 2/3 innings) and striking out 37.7 percent (29 of 77) of the batters he’s faced.  

“He's been phenomenal and just kind of has a knack to make that pitch,” Anderson said. “He's making some some really good hitters look pretty foolish up there.”

Snitker was ready to use Strider as his opener on Tuesday as long as he wasn’t needed in this series opener. But if this was a winnable game, there was seemingly little chance Strider wouldn’t be needed. Kenley Jansen and A.J. Minter were unavailable because they had pitched the past two days. Then Matzek became unavailable when he tried to play catch before the game.

So, Tucker Davidson will start Tuesday and Strider will rest a day or two before likely getting regular high-leverage appearances. The young hurler has just one full professional season under his belt. But he also has a sizzling fastball that has hit 100 mph and consistently baffled hitters.

Strider faced the minimum and recorded three strikeouts over two scoreless innings on Monday. He is still becoming more comfortable with the slider he developed during his abbreviated 2020 season at Clemson. Still, while throwing this pitch six times in this latest outing, he got two whiffs and two called strikes.

“I just want to pitch in the big leagues and help us win,” Strider said. “I want to pitch as frequently as I can, have success, win games and get another World Series ring. Hopefully, I’ll contribute a lot more to the next one.”

Strider was drafted in the fourth round of the 2020 MLB Draft. He began the 2021 season at the Single-A level and ended it by making his first two big league appearances during the regular season’s final weekend. He didn’t pitch in the postseason. But he now stands as somebody who could potentially be drawing comparisons to Hader and other top relievers.

“He has the repertoire, and I think he's got the right mentality for it,” Anderson said. “We love having him, and I'm sure you guys love watching him.”