Strider, Acuña form a winning tandem for Braves

June 4th, 2023

PHOENIX -- Dwight Gooden had Darryl Strawberry. Shohei Ohtani currently has both himself and Mike Trout.

As for , he’s teaming up with to form what could be baseball’s most exciting pitcher-batter duo for many years to come.

Strider and Acuña both put on a show as the Braves got back on track with a 5-2 win over the D-backs on Saturday night at Chase Field. The former limited one of baseball’s hottest teams to three hits and the latter again amazed with both his power and speed.

“There’s a lot of special talent coming out of [Strider’s] right arm, and then you get to see Ronnie every day,” Braves reliever Jesse Chavez said. “You can’t ask for a better seat in the house than to be able to be next to that every day.”

These past few weeks have been subpar for the Braves, who entered this game with the National League’s second-worst record (8-13) going back to May 10. But with Acuña sparking a slumbering offense and Strider subduing a strong lineup, the Braves snapped the D-backs’ six-game winning streak.

Acuña strengthened his MVP credentials by adding to his stolen-base total at the expense of another unsuspecting third baseman. He also added to his MLB-leading list of homers 460 feet or longer. The contributions backed Strider, who continues to prove he’s more than a strikeout artist, allowing just three hits and two runs over six innings. His seven strikeouts matched a season low.

Strider’s effort came four days after the one-year anniversary of his first career start, which came on this same exact mound. He has posted a 2.85 ERA in the 32 starts he has made going back to May 30, 2022, when he began becoming one of baseball’s most exciting pitchers.

“I’m just happy we’re on the same team and I don’t have to face him,” Acuña said through an interpreter.

Strider feels the same way about Acuña, who again managed to dazzle with both his speed, power and instincts within a nine-inning stretch. His third-inning stolen base that led to the game’s first run conjured memories of him going first to third on a walk against the Dodgers on May 23.

With that steal, he recognized Dodgers third baseman Max Muncy wasn’t paying attention. This latest surprise steal took advantage of D-backs third baseman Josh Rojas being positioned away from the bag with left-handed slugger Matt Olson batting. Acuña sprinted toward third knowing that even if pitcher Ryne Nelson threw to third base, he could beat Rojas to the bag.

“I’m always visualizing plays before they happen, and I’m just trying to analyze and assess what’s going on,” Acuña said. “I noticed they were really close to me. I thought with my speed, I could take advantage of the situation.”

After using his feet to generate the game’s first run in the third, Acuña caused some jaws to drop in the sixth inning when he hit a two-run blast that traveled a projected 464 feet, his second-longest homer of the season.

“It’s like I always say, ‘You better not go get a beer or anything when he’s coming to bat, because you might miss something special,’” Braves manager Brian Snitker said.

Acuña now has three homers of 460-plus feet this year; no other player entered Saturday with more than one. It was also his fifth homer of 450-plus feet, and his teammate Austin Riley was the only other player who entered Saturday with at least three.

“When he’s clicking, he’s a five-tool player and it’s hard to stop him,” Strider said. “He can beat you every way. He’s a real asset.”

With 12 homers and 24 steals, Acuña is on pace for 33 homers and 67 stolen bases. He’s aiming for the 40-40 season he fell three steals shy of in 2019. But he’s already on pace for what would be the game’s first 30-60 season.

Strider already became the fastest starting pitcher to 100 strikeouts, doing so at the 61-inning mark during last weekend’s start against the Phillies. The 10 double-digit strikeout games he’s tallied through 32 career starts leads the NL in that span and ranks second among all MLB pitchers, trailing only Ohtani’s 11.

Going back to his first career start, Strider entered Saturday leading all MLB pitchers (min. 170 innings) with a 6.3 fWAR. Like Acuña, he has become one of those players who is must-see whenever on the baseball diamond.

“He’s not sneaking up on anyone anymore,” Snitker said. “I’m sure teams are looking at our rotation when we come to town to see if he is in there.”