Unflappable Strider proving he belongs in rotation

June 27th, 2022

ATLANTA -- What do the Bowling Green Hot Rods, Birmingham Barons, Coastal Carolina Chanticleers and Los Angeles Dodgers have in common? They stand as the only four teams has completed at least six innings against since the end of high school.

Strider covered this distance against the Chanticleers during his 2018 freshman season at Clemson University. He then recorded 18 outs against both the Barons and the Hot Rods as he progressed through his first professional season last year.

Those outings certainly didn’t compare to the six scoreless innings Strider constructed before the Braves blew a late lead in a 5-3, 11-inning loss to the Dodgers on Sunday night at Truist Park. The mustached rookie was unfazed as he battled one of the National League’s top clubs, in front of both a sold-out crowd and a national television audience.

“I think this kid has a lot of self-confidence and awareness,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He does a real good job of slowing the game down for a young guy with the limited experience he has.”

With just their fifth loss in their past 24 games, the Braves squandered the chance to win this three-game series against the team they have met in the past two NL Championship Series. But they still went 4-3 during this seven-game homestand against the Giants and Dodgers.

“It was a good week,” Snitker said. “We played some really good baseball against some really good teams. If there were any questions, I think we showed we are as good as anybody in this league.”

A lot has recently gone right for the Braves, who have stabilized the back of their rotation since converting Strider from a reliever to a starter near the end of May. The 23-year-old right-hander allowed five hits and recorded seven strikeouts against the Dodgers. He has a 3.24 ERA in five June starts, despite allowing six runs in just 3 2/3 innings against the Giants last Tuesday.

Coming off that rough outing, Strider reduced some of his between-starts activity and seemed to reap the benefits.

“I felt like I had more energy in the tank for sure from the get-go,” Strider said. “That’s all I’m trying to do, go as many outs as I can.”

This was another outing that supported Strider’s preference to remain a starter. He has seemingly profiled as a reliever since being taken out of Clemson in the fourth round of the 2020 MLB Draft. He fast-tracked his way from Single-A to the Majors last year, then began this year in the bullpen. But you can’t argue against the success he has had in his new role. The Braves have won four of the six games he has started.

As Strider quickly bounced back from the Giants start, the Braves saw even more to like about the young hurler, who has quickly proven he has more than just a great fastball. That fastball touched 100.2 mph and averaged 98.2 mph during Sunday’s 95-pitch outing. But Strider also impressed with his slider, which he began using last year, and his changeup, which he didn’t start consistently showing until a few weeks ago.

Freddie Freeman went 4-for-12 as he spent this weekend playing in Atlanta for the first time since his 12-season stint with the Braves ended with a World Series title last year. Freeman tallied a go-ahead double in Sunday’s 10th inning and singled in the sixth. But he got a glimpse of Strider’s arsenal when he swung through a 91 mph changeup to end the third.

“He was effective with all three [of his pitches], and he was able to command all three, not only in pitcher’s counts but in hitter’s counts, even counts and whenever,” Braves catcher Travis d’Arnaud said. “That makes it hard to hit against, and he did a tremendous job today.”

Strider pitched around a couple of minor threats in the first five innings, and he ended his outing with the poise of a seasoned veteran. After Freeman singled and advanced to third on Will Smith’s one-out double in the sixth, Strider got Max Muncy to ground into a fielder’s choice and ended the inning by striking out Justin Turner.

Muncy was retired on a 99 mph fastball, which was Strider’s 91st pitch. Turner fouled off one slider, then whiffed against the two that immediately followed.

“He’s got the fight, and he’s got the grit,” d’Arnaud said. “No situation is too big, especially a Sunday night baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers.”