ATL phenom lives up to hype with 1-hit debut

August 26th, 2020

ATLANTA -- Ian Anderson produced a very memorable big league debut and Ronald Acuña Jr. helped snapped Gerrit Cole’s unbeaten streak as the Braves claimed a 5-1 win over the Yankees in the first game of a seven-inning doubleheader on Wednesday afternoon at Truist Park.

Acuña’s 473-foot homer off Cole was his 16th leadoff homer and the longest home run of his young career. More importantly, it served as early comfort for Anderson, who held the Yankees hitless until Luke Voit hit an opposite-field homer with one out in the sixth inning.

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Voit’s sixth homer in the past five games ended up being the only hit allowed by Anderson, who totaled 90 pitches over six innings.

“Obviously my goal is to be here and stay here,” Anderson said. “Today, I was able to show that a little bit. I’m definitely looking forward to hopefully getting another shot at it and see what we can do from there.”

Anderson retired each of the first eight batters he faced and induced a double play after an error and a walk put two on with one out in the fourth. The 22-year-old right-hander leaned heavily on his four-seam fastball and changeup as he struck out six and displayed the poise the Braves have talked about since taking him with the third overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft.

Per Elias, Anderson’s 5 1/3 no-hit innings was the longest bid in a debut since the Rays’ Brendan McCay also allowed his first hit with one out in the sixth inning of his June 29, 2019, debut against the Rangers. It was the longest such bid by any Braves pitcher in his debut since the team moved to Atlanta in 1966.

“It was pretty impressive,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He slowed [the game] down well. He had confidence in his pitches. He wasn’t afraid of anything, I know that. He trusted his stuff. He got in the strike zone with those guys and that was really, really fun to watch.”

Snitker admits he might have been a little more nervous as the innings unfolded had he not learned no-hitters wouldn’t count in seven-inning games. He would not have felt comfortable pushing Anderson beyond the 90 pitches he totaled.

“He was done after the sixth," Snitker said. “[Throwing] 90 pitches at the alternate [training] site and 90 pitches here against the New York Yankees is a completely different animal. But he didn’t seem spent when I went over to talk to him.”

After Acuña got the Braves rolling with a massive home run in his first plate appearance since his left wrist sidelined him on Aug. 11, Dansby Swanson and Marcell Ozuna both homered against Cole during a three-run third. The Yankees right-hander had not suffered a loss in a decision over a span of 28 starts going back to May 27, 2019. This marked the fourth time he surrendered three homers in a game and first time since the Rangers hit three against him on July 12 of last year.

While Cole ranks among the game’s elite, he was bested on this day by a young pitcher who grew up in upstate New York as a Red Sox fan.

“I thought he did a good job of attacking the strike zone and being a little bit unpredictable,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said of Anderson. “He had the advantage of us not seeing him much at all. I thought he did a good job when he did get behind in some counts of being unpredictable, the ability to strike his secondary pitches, but not being afraid to be aggressive with his fastball.”

Anderson ranks No. 42 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospects list and No. 3 in Atlanta’s system. His arrival has steadily become more anticipated as the Braves’ rotation has been deteriorated by injuries and demotions this year.

This marked just the seventh time the Braves have had a starting pitcher complete at least six innings this year. Max Fried has accounted for three of those outings, and they’ve become rarer since ace Mike Soroka was lost for the season with a torn right Achilles on Aug. 3.

Anderson, who shared a residence with Soroka during Spring Training, was just happy to halt a trend of feeling like he’s struggled in his first start at each new level. His late-season jump to Triple-A last year resulted in him producing a 6.57 ERA over six starts for Gwinnett.

So how was he feeling after this dominant debut?

“I probably won’t take this smile off my face for a long time,” Anderson said.