ATLANTA -- Michael Harris II couldn’t hit two months ago, and the Braves couldn’t pitch a little more than a week ago. Now, Harris is one of the most valuable contributors in baseball’s best lineup and Atlanta’s pitching staff is tossing zeros around like a Hall of Fame goalie.
The victory just extended what feels like a trend for the two teammates who finished first and second in last year’s National League Rookie of the Year balloting.
“I remember the last time -- I told you whenever he pitches, I feel like I have a big night and he does too,” Harris said. “Dang. Now that you say that, that explains the night. He's phenomenal. I love playing behind him. And I'm glad we'll be teammates here for a long time.”
Strider came to the interview room wearing a Michael Harris T-shirt.
“Every time he’s up, I peek over to make sure I’m watching,” Strider said. “He’s a special player. We’ve got a few of those.”
Though they might be best recognized for their deep, powerful lineup, the Braves have spent the past week impressively recovering from the pitching woes they experienced for the first three weeks after the All-Star break.
The Braves exited their Aug. 10 loss in Pittsburgh 12-12 since the break with MLB’s second-worst starting pitching ERA (6.15) during that span. They have registered a shutout in five of the eight games that followed.
This marks the first time Atlanta has tallied three straight shutouts since blanking the Cardinals during each of the final three games of 2015. That was a season-ending series that pitted a 95-loss Atlanta club against a 100-win St. Louis team that had secured its postseason seed.
The most recent time the Braves had recorded three straight shutouts in games that had postseason implications was Sept. 5-7, 2012, which included two games against the Rockies and one against the Mets. Atlanta’s starters in those games were Mike Minor, Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm.
“You play 162 games, I think you're going to see a little bit of everything,” Strider said. “We were due for a little bit of a lull, but everybody's right back to where they’ve been all year.”
Strider strengthened his bid for the NL Cy Young Award as he allowed just one hit and struck out 10 over seven scoreless innings. He has 16 double-digit strikeout performances through his first 45 career starts and 10 such performances through his first 25 outings this year.
How impressive is this? Well, Strider joins John Smoltz as the only pitchers in franchise history with at least 10 double-digit strikeout games in a season (Smoltz had 12 such games in 1996).
Strider’s 16 career double-digit games are three more than any other pitcher dating back to May 30, 2022, when he ended his bullpen days and made his first start.
“I just want to have full focus on every pitch and conviction behind everything,” Strider said. “ Usually, that's what's going to lead to positive outcomes, whether they're strikeouts or outs or soft contact or whatever. Really the goal is to just be as competitive as I can for as many pitches as I'm allowed to go.”
Harris recorded each of his four hits through the first six innings. He was a homer shy of the cycle when he singled in his fourth plate appearance, and he grounded out in his final at-bat of the night.
This season started rough for Harris, who missed three weeks in April with a lower back strain, and then twisted his knee a few days after returning from the injured list. He exited June 6 hitting .160 with a .490 OPS through 138 plate appearances.
Since the start of play on June 7, Harris leads the Majors with a .362 batting average. His .973 OPS during this span ranks 10th.
“I just kept working and kept trying to find ways to improve,” Harris said. “Once I found that, it started working and I just kept pushing. It was pretty cool to come out of that.”