Strider's start propels Braves' 9th straight W

Righty goes 5 2/3 scoreless IP; Swanson aids with HR, barehanded play

June 11th, 2022

ATLANTA -- Spencer Strider is a Seinfeld fan who can put a leg behind his head and throw 100 mph with great regularity. If he’s not the most interesting man in the Braves clubhouse, he certainly might be the most influential member of the defending World Series champions’ pitching staff.

Strider may eventually move back to a bullpen role and begin constructing a great career as a setup man or closer. But for now, the Braves need the hard-throwing right-hander to make starts like the one that helped them extend their winning streak to nine games with a 4-2 victory over the Pirates on Friday night at Truist Park.

“He took that next step toward where we want him to be,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said.

This marks the first time the Braves have won nine straight games since Aug. 13-22, 2021. Their lineup has started to live up to expectations, their bullpen has been rock solid and the rotation’s fifth spot has been stabilized since Strider became a starter on May 30.

Strider limited the Pirates to four hits and struck out eight over a career-high 5 2/3 scoreless innings. The Braves have won two of the first three games started by the 23-year-old right-hander. They were 2-9 in games started by others who previously filled the rotation’s fifth spot this year.

“We wanted to solidify that spot, and he has continued to do a great job with that,” Snitker said.

Strider continued to energize Braves fans as he averaged 97.7 mph with his fastball and touched 99.5 mph or higher 11 times during his 92-pitch outing. He induced a whiff with 33.9% (18 of 53) of the swings taken against him, and the Pirates missed with six of the nine swings taken against his slider.

Dansby Swanson created an early lead with a two-run homer off Pirates starter Roansy Contreras in the bottom of the third. A few minutes before tallying his seventh homer of the season, the Braves shortstop barehanded a slow roller from Bryan Reynolds and made a strong throw to first to end the top of the third.

“You know, when he made that play, I had some flutters, for sure,” Strider said. “I see what the women see in him.”

Along with showing the ability to create laughs with responses like that one, Strider has garnered the respect of teammates with his maturity and willingness to learn. After he issued five walks while allowing just one run over four innings at Coors Field last weekend, he sat at a clubhouse table to dine and converse with both Swanson and Max Fried.

“[Swanson] knows what it’s like to be in the box against a guy with good stuff, and he can tell when I’m getting too complicated,” Strider said. “With me being a rookie, he said he doesn’t want me to jump too fast. Max has also said, ‘You’re going to have to be patient and gain experience to fix problems.’”

While cruising into the sixth inning against the Pirates, Strider strengthened the argument of those who want to see him remain a starter. Maybe he will fit in the rotation on a long-term basis. But just two months into his second full professional season, his workload likely won’t allow him to remain a starter.

Strider was drafted in the fourth round of the 2020 MLB Draft out of Clemson. He never totaled more than 77 1/3 innings during any of his college years (summer leagues included), and he completed 94 innings while making the meteoric rise from Single-A to the Majors last year.

With 38 1/3 innings already under his belt, Strider could certainly continue to work as a starter for at least a few more months. He stands as the best available option right now. But if Mike Soroka’s surgically-repaired Achilles tendon allows him to come back after the All-Star break, Strider could also serve as a top setup man down the stretch.

Whatever happens, the rookie will likely play a significant role for the defending champs.

“I’m very impressed with the presence he has,” Snitker said.