PHILADELPHIA – Last week, George Poulis, the Braves’ head athletic trainer, informed manager Brian Snitker that Austin Riley had been throwing up throughout the night because of a stomach bug.
A day later, on Friday, Spencer Strider felt sick, and the training staff told him to take off that day. Strider knows he came down with whatever Riley had.
“It wasn’t good,” Strider said.
Strider opted not to reveal any specifics. (Can’t blame him there.) But because of this illness, the Braves pushed back Strider to Wednesday after he was lined up to pitch again Monday.
Strider is fine. Like Riley, he only needed rest to get over the virus.
“When you’re a baseball player, you get sick like anybody else, and you do the same thing — just take it easy,” he said.
Strider is in great shape. It’s one attribute that makes him so special on the mound. Not only can he fire 100 mph fastballs, but he can stay near triple digits late into his outings.
Physically, the illness shouldn’t derail Strider, who traveled to Philadelphia with the team ahead of his next start. It seems like he only needed to take a day or two before feeling better.
“You don’t really see it coming, so it’s hard to prep for it, obviously,” Strider said. “But I think it’s just hydrate and eat well. I’ve learned pushing through those things sometimes can be more harmful than just accepting it. Fortunately, this isn’t the postseason. If it were the postseason, I would bang my fist on the table saying I’ll pitch tomorrow. I didn’t want to get anybody else sick too, so I made the training staff aware of how I felt and they took over from there.”
If this were the postseason, Strider would’ve pitched through it.
But it is not October.
Through 28 starts this season, Strider has a 3.83 ERA. He has a ridiculous 250 strikeouts over 162 innings. In his last outing, he allowed six runs over 2-2/3 innings against the Cardinals.
Braves option Dylan Lee
To create a spot on the active roster for Kyle Wright, who started the second game of Monday’s doubleheader, the Braves optioned left-handed reliever Dylan Lee.
In the first game, Lee walked a batter then served up a two-run homer. In four appearances since the Braves returned him from his rehab assignment, Lee allowed four earned runs over 3 1/3 innings.
Was there something specific that might have been off?
“We just needed length,” Snitker said. “We needed to not get rid of one of the guys that could give us length in the second game.”
Thus, the Braves didn’t option Jackson Stephens or AJ Smith-Shawver. Stephens pitched in the second game (more soon).
Lee missed a few months because of left shoulder inflammation. On Sept. 3, he made his first appearance back in the majors.
The time in the minors could benefit him, though it seemed like, as Snitker said, the decision was also made because the Braves couldn’t afford to not cover themselves for the second game.
“It’s tough when you miss a lot of time,” Snitker said. “You miss that much time, your arm’s not built up, the feel, the whole thing. It’s tough. It’s just like guys that miss spring training. They’ll catch up all year.”
Stephens overcomes injury
The Braves on Monday selected the contract of Stephens, their long reliever last year. This is his first time in the majors this season.
Stephens pitched for Triple-A Gwinnett on April 1, then didn’t get into a game again until June 27.
He had a stress reaction in his olecranon, which is the bony tip of the elbow. So Stephens had to wait for the bone to heal before beginning to build up again.
“It was kind of crazy,” he said. “I’d never heard of something like that, so it was new to me.”
The Braves optioned Allan Winans, who started Sunday’s game, and added Stephens. To create room on the 40-man roster, they transferred Michael Soroka (forearm inflammation) to the 60-day injured list.
Including rehab outings for the rookie-level Braves and High-A Rome, Stephens has a 2.70 ERA over 33-1/3 innings in the minors this season. He has 34 strikeouts and a 1.05 WHIP. He’s built up to pitch multiple innings, and has a trio of three-inning outings.
Stephens noticed there were some new faces from the last time he was on the big club. He found some time to introduce himself to those guys.
He was happy to be here, regardless of how long it lasts.
“It’s always great,” he said. “To be here at the highest level, it’s always great, no matter how many times it is, (whether it’s your) first or last.”
Stephens allowed one run over 3 2/3 frames in the second game of the doubleheader. He struck out five batters and walked one.
Pillar stays ready again
Of the many storylines in the Braves’ 2023 season, hopefully this one doesn’t go unnoticed: When the Braves have needed Kevin Pillar, he has, for the most part, delivered.
In the first game of Monday’s doubleheader, a Braves win, Pillar led off the top of the 10th inning with a run-scoring single that gave Atlanta the lead.
He did this in his first at-bat since Aug. 30.
“He’s a pro, man,” Snitker said. “He’s a pro’s pro, he gets it, he understands his role, he’s always ready, he’s on the top step (of the dugout) all the time, he’s engaged in the game. Most of the time, he knows before I do that I’m going to pinch-hit him and he’s up the steps with his helmet on. I just can’t say enough about the man.”
Pillar does one of baseball’s toughest jobs: He’s one of the guys who doesn’t know when his next opportunity will come, then tries to take advantage of it when it does.
“I left Colorado (at the end of August) feeling good, and it’s just been unfortunate the way the games have shaken out,” Pillar said. “I haven’t had a lot of opportunities to go out there and start games or get opportunities to pinch-hit. It didn’t come under ideal circumstances. I would’ve rather not played and us win the game in the ninth.”
But as he saw the Phillies tie the game on Bryce Harper’s ninth-inning homer, he knew there might be more baseball ahead. Then he saw lefty Jose Alvarado warming up in the bullpen, and knew Snitker might pinch-hit him for the favorable matchup.
After Sunday’s win over the Pirates, the Braves departed Atlanta with their magic number to clinch another NL East crown down to six.
What this means: Any combination of Braves wins and Phillies losses (the Phillies are in second place) can get that number to zero.
Here’s how the math works out: The Braves need to take three of four in Philadelphia to clinch here. Each Atlanta win will count as two because it’s a Braves win and a Phillies loss.
If the Braves don’t win three of four here, they can officially win the division title in Miami this weekend.
Of course, it’s never over until it’s over …
But at this point, it’s not if, but when, the Braves will lock up their sixth consecutive division title in six years under president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos.
No 29th man?
Usually, teams can add a player for a doubleheader. This person is the 26th man.
There is no 29th man, though.
On Sept. 1, rosters expanded to 28. Due to this, the Braves and Phillies didn’t get an extra player for Monday’s doubleheader.