NORTH PORT, Fla. — For Ian Anderson, the struggles spiraled out of control. One thing turned into another, creating a snowball effect he never overcame.
When the Braves sent him down to Triple-A, he had one foot there and another in the majors, where he still desperately wanted to pitch.
“You look back, you wish you would have caught some things earlier, you think maybe you would have been able to make some changes faster,” Anderson told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Wednesday. “It’s tough when you’re still trying to compete. You still have to think you can go out there and do it or else you’re going to be even worse off.”
But Anderson admitted this: In the minors, he was not in the correct mindset to make the necessary changes. Thus, the offseason provided a reset. He could finally stop and focus on making adjustments.
Wednesday marked the mandatory reporting date for all Braves pitchers and catchers, though many reported in the days prior. Along with Anderson, Max Fried, Spencer Strider, Kyle Wright and Charlie Morton had reported to camp by the middle of the morning. (Mike Soroka was expected to report later on Wednesday).
Anderson is one of the pitchers competing for the fifth spot in the starting rotation. Soroka and Bryce Elder, who was also here Wednesday, are a couple other contenders. Kolby Allard, also here, is another name to watch.
Last season, Anderson experienced baseball failure for the first time. A former first-round pick, he quickly climbed the organizational ladder and debuted in 2020. He raised expectations by stacking great postseason starts over his first two seasons in the majors. He went into last year hoping to take the next step.
It did not happen.
In August, the Braves demoted Anderson during a series versus the Mets in New York. In September, he suffered an oblique strain that effectively ended a difficult season.
But these struggles could … benefit him?
They certainly could, because he learned how to navigate trying times.
“It helps a ton,” Anderson said. “It shows you that there’s always light on the other side when you’re struggling. It definitely helps.
“One of the things I kind of told myself was, I don’t want to get back to that guy, I want to be better than that guy. I think I can be. That’s kind of been the driving force this offseason.”
After posting a 5.00 ERA over 22 starts before the Braves sent him down last season, Anderson has a 3.97 career ERA over 272-1/3 innings.
Toward the end of the offseason, Anderson spent two days at the Wake Forest Pitching Lab, which uses biomechanics to study and evaluate pitchers in hopes of helping them improve. Anderson’s agency, ACES Inc. Baseball, sent him there along with a few other pitchers who were trying to figure some things out. (Cleveland pitcher Zach Plesac, who is with the same agency, was one of them).
The first day, the employees there used motion-capture – and placed the dots all over Anderson – while he threw a bullpen. The next day, they broke down the data and showed Anderson a few different exercises to help him. Anderson believed it was beneficial.
“I felt like I was on the right track just with the work I’d been doing,” he said, “but I think that kind of reinforced some of the stuff I was doing with some harder data.”
Over the offseason, Anderson made multiple mechanical changes. He tried to clean up his delivery and keep a better posture. He also sought to be a bit calmer on the mound. Then there’s the mental side.
“I think the mindset has definitely changed a little bit as well,” Anderson said. “And I’m looking forward to kind of put that into practice here.”
In sports, the “chip on the shoulder” is one of the most prominent clichés. We use it for anyone who might have some semblance of motivation.
It might fit for Anderson, though.
In the middle of his tough season, the Braves sent him down. Since debuting, he hadn’t known anything but a major-league clubhouse.
So, yeah, this spring is a bit different.
“I feel the motivation, I feel like I just want to be a part of it again,” Anderson said. “That’s the biggest thing. That’s the thing you enjoy the most about the game and the part I missed out the most on last year.”
About the Author
Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com