Strider toys with new pitch shapes in first spring BP session

February 19th, 2024

NORTH PORT, Fla. -- was asked if it felt good to get the competitive juices flowing again while facing Austin Riley and Matt Olson in a live batting practice session on Monday.

“I woke up and was ready to go,” Strider said. “I’m in a bad mood and I’m ornery and they know they need to clear out of the clubhouse when I walk in. I like that a lot. I’ve missed it, and seeing how things ended last year, I’ve been itching to get out there.”

Strider has a great sense of humor and he’s also very intense. So, there’s reason to pause and wonder if he is being serious or sarcastic. But it quickly becomes clear this Feb. 19 matchup against a couple MVP-caliber teammates in Riley and Olson provided the Cy Young Award candidate a chance to approach this like he would a regular season start.

“You have to,” Strider said. “I think I made that mistake last year when I was working on too many things and didn’t have clear goals every single time I got on the mound in Spring Training. It kind of put me behind the starting line once the season got going.”

As great as Strider is, this is all still relatively new to him. He stands as one of four pitchers in modern history to record multiple 200-strikeout seasons with the Braves. But he has completed just three seasons above the collegiate level. This is just the third time he has been in big league camp, but just the second during which he knows he’ll begin the season in Atlanta’s rotation.

Still, he’s always shown an advanced maturity and understanding of the art of pitching. There’s no doubt that he’ll continue to focus on the great fastball-slider mix that has helped him tally an MLB-best 483 strikeouts over the past two seasons. Yankees ace Gerrit Cole ranks second with the 479 strikeouts he’s compiled while throwing 91 1/3 innings more than Strider during that same span.

Looking for ways to improve, Strider has at least been toying with occasionally creating a different shape to his breaking ball. Having the ability to occasionally throw a breaking ball that might look more like a curveball would at least give opponents something else to worry about.

“Sweeper, slider, curve, slurve, who knows what any of that is,” Strider said. “I think it’s just manipulating the ball a little more, seeing what kind of shape I can get. More so, I’m just screwing around and taking a chance with things during live BP.”

Olson seemed to know a breaking ball was coming when he ripped a pitch into the gap during one of his two plate appearances. Riley ended one of his plate appearances with a sharply-hit ball to right field. The hitters viewed them as clear base hits. Strider and catcher Travis d’Arnaud, who was watching the live BP, considered anything that didn’t leave the yard to be an out.

“I was trying to get the guys out, even if I’m playing around, especially these guys, because I don’t like them very much,” Strider said.

The sarcasm is every bit as entertaining as his pitching.

“He’s the best in the game for a reason,” Riley said. “I was just sharing what I saw with him. The sliders that start in the zone, you saw the swings, they were really hard to stay on.”

This interaction will give Strider a better feel as he refines his dominant mix and possibly adds another look or two to an arsenal that is already arguably the game’s most dominant.

“The strengths are the fastball and slider,” Strider said. “Those are going to be the best for me when I’m the most competitive and when I have the most effort to focus. I’ve got to practice that more than anything else.”