Strider to miss rest of 2024 season after UCL procedure

April 13th, 2024

MIAMI -- There wasn’t too much surprise around the Braves clubhouse and dugout on Saturday afternoon, despite the tough -- albeit expected -- news that broke that morning.

Prior to Atlanta’s matinee in Miami, the Braves announced that underwent surgery on Friday to repair the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow with an internal brace, which was performed by Dr. Keith Meister in Arlington. Strider will miss the rest of the 2024 season.

“I didn’t really have [a reaction],” manager Brian Snitker said. “I knew that probably was going to happen, and he should be back stronger than ever. If anybody’s going to overcome something, it’s going to be that kid.”

Strider, 25, enjoyed an impressive Spring Training and proved effective while making his first career Opening Day start on March 29 in Philadelphia. But it was obvious something wasn’t right as he allowed five runs over four innings against the D-backs on April 5. He didn’t inform the Braves of the elbow discomfort before ending his 88-pitch effort.

On April 6, Strider underwent an MRI exam that showed damage to his UCL in his right elbow, confirming the fears that had developed the previous night.

“You never expect these things to be good,” Snitker said last weekend. “It’s seldom just a blip on the screen. When a guy has problems like that, we’ve seen it happen too many times.”

There was no timetable announced for a return, but the internal brace procedure should allow Strider to return earlier than Tommy John surgery would have. Earlier this year, the Red Sox’s Lucas Giolito also underwent the procedure, with a timeline to return toward the beginning of next season.

Strider’s absence will create a stir throughout the baseball world. He has completed just two full big league seasons, but he has already established himself as one of the game’s most electric starting pitchers.

Despite spending the first two months of 2022 as a reliever, he tallied an MLB-best 483 strikeouts over the past two seasons. Gerrit Cole ranked second with the 479 strikeouts he notched over 91 1/3 more innings. Strider also set multiple strikeout records, including the Braves’ record for single-season K’s in the modern era, and the fastest to 200 K’s -- twice.

Strider’s 37.4 percent strikeout rate as a starting pitcher from 2022-23 was easily better than the one produced by Shohei Ohtani, who ranked second with a 32.4 percent rate.

The Braves were so impressed by Strider’s potential that they took a gamble by giving him a six-year, $75 million deal after he had spent just four months as a big league starter. The last guaranteed year of his deal is 2028.

“[Strider] is so dedicated to his craft,” Snitker said. “He loves everything about this. He does everything right from being a great teammate to just all the dedication. I really hate this for him because he enjoys it so much.”

Atlanta has a handful of options to fill the empty spot in their rotation. There’s Bryce Elder, who started the year at Triple-A, delivering a 2.61 ERA in two starts (10 1/3 innings). Elder has a career 3.66 ERA with the Braves (40 starts and one relief appearance) over two seasons.

There’s also No. 1 prospect AJ Smith-Shawver, who delivered in the Minors last year (a 2.76 ERA across three levels in 15 starts) and has begun to prove he has Major League potential after making his debut last year -- he posted a 4.26 ERA over six appearances (five starts).

And then there’s No. 2 prospect Hurston Waldrep, though he is in Double-A at the moment, and No. 25 prospect Allan Winans, who provided a spot start on Thursday against the Mets.

“As soon as [Strider] went down, we did [look at our options], the depth,” Snitker said. “It’s just something that we’ll have to deal with over the course of the summer. We’ll mix and match with all the guys that we have available.

“We have some good options and we’ll just see where we are after different things. It will be kind of a day-to-day thing.”