Strider opens strong before Game 3 start derails in 3rd

October 15th, 2022

PHILADELPHIA -- After evening the National League Division Series at one game apiece on Wednesday night, the Braves made the decision to go with Spencer Strider, not Charlie Morton, as their starter in Game 3. With Strider coming off a left oblique injury, manager Brian Snitker hoped he could ride the rookie right-hander for four innings.

Through the first two frames, it looked as if the Braves might have a hard time sticking to that plan.

Making his first start since Sept. 18, Strider retired the first six Phillies he faced in Friday's 9-1 loss at Citizens Bank Park, which gave Philadelphia a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series. He opened the game with a 97.7 mph fastball to Kyle Schwarber, then he topped out at 100.6 on his fourth pitch to J.T. Realmuto in the first. Strider needed just 14 pitches to get through a perfect first, in which he recorded two strikeouts.

Through two innings, Strider’s fastball averaged 98.4 mph. By the third, that average had dropped to 96.4 mph. The Phillies took notice.

“As soon as he started throwing some 5s and 6s, we started looking around,” said Phillies right fielder Nick Castellanos of the 95-96 mph readings from the stadium radar gun. “In the past, he really hasn’t done that. I don’t know if that was from an oblique injury; myself, after coming back from one, I know how it’s such a tricky muscle that really doesn’t have any rhyme or reason when it wants to show up. Yeah, we definitely started noticing that he started flashing some 5s and 6s.”

The trouble started for Strider when he opened the third with a four-pitch walk to Brandon Marsh. The 23-year-old recorded his only out of the inning with a strikeout of Jean Segura. With lefty Bryson Stott at the plate, Strider was charged with his first error on a pickoff attempt that resulted in Marsh reaching third. Stott’s RBI double on the ninth pitch of the at-bat scored Marsh, the first of five runs charged to Strider.

After a mound visit from pitching coach Rick Kranitz and batterymate Travis d’Arnaud, Strider intentionally walked Schwarber before giving up a first-pitch home run to Rhys Hoskins on a 93.8 mph fastball -- matching the slowest fastball the rookie has thrown in his young career.

“I have no idea,” Strider said of the drop in velocity. “I felt fine and didn’t want to throw a ball that slow, necessarily. It was right down the middle as well. So throw it 91 or 101 [mph], [if you] throw it right down the middle, they usually hit it.”

Strider, who pitched off a mound just twice since his last start, said he felt fine physically -- he was just unable to execute.

“My expectation, whether I haven’t pitched in a year or pitched in a day, is that I’m going to do well,” said Strider. “I’ve got to execute pitches. I’m going out there and [I’m] going to throw until they take the ball away.”

Strider faced Philadelphia four times during the regular season, holding the NL East rival to three runs in 21 1/3 innings. But the Phillies pounced when they saw an opening in the third.

“I peeped the board and saw [95] and [96 mph],” said Stott. “The first couple innings, he was pumping [98s], [99s], maybe 100. I mean, you never know. He just came off the IL. ... He’s an incredible talent. He’s very good at what he does.”

The decision to go with Strider in Game 3 was made knowing the bullpen was well rested after an off-day Thursday and Kyle Wright’s six scoreless innings in Game 2. Had the Braves not come into Game 3 with the series tied, Snitker said they would have gone with Morton, who will now start in Game 4 as Atlanta faces elimination.

“Yeah, it’s very frustrating, but Charlie is going to go out and give us a chance tomorrow,” Strider said. “Obviously, we need to have a good game, and [we’re] confident that we will. And hopefully, [I can] get back out there [in the NL Championship Series] and do better.”