PHOENIX – On Friday, Spencer Strider walked into the visitors’ clubhouse at Chase Field. In the ensuing hours, he went through his routine ahead of Saturday’s start.
It is a fun coincidence that he will start a game here.
On May 30 of last year, at this same ballpark, he made his first career start after the Braves put him in the rotation. Since then, Strider has befuddled and blown away hitters while regularly spinning gems.
“I think it’s just understanding that no matter how I feel, no matter who we’re playing, no matter what’s going on, I’m here because I can perform and I can help the team,” Strider said of the area in which he’s grown most over the last year. “And that’s gotta be my focus is just helping the team, put us in a good chance to win. I have what’s necessary, what’s capable of doing that, if I just kind of stick within my strengths and trust myself, trust my teammates.”
Before the Braves inserted Strider into the rotation, he allowed seven earned runs over 26 2/3 innings as a reliever. He struck out 37 batters.
Since his first start, Strider has a 2.84 ERA over 171 innings as a starting pitcher. He finished second in National League Rookie of the Year voting last fall, and has Cy Young talent.
Three years ago, Michael Harris II – who won NL Rookie of the Year last season – met Strider at the Braves’ alternate site during COVID.
“He’s a way different dude now,” Harris said. “He’s electric. He’s definitely one of the top pitchers in the league. I know a lot of hitters probably fear him when they know they have to face him that day or get in the box. It’s probably going to be a tough at-bat. He’s just a stud and he’s been showing why he’s one of the top pitchers in the league right now.”
Armed with a fastball that’s like an optical illusion and a deadly slider – plus a changeup – Strider is beginning to put together a terrific career. Last month, he became the fastest pitcher to reach 100 strikeouts in a season, doing so in only 61 innings. He leads all qualified MLB pitchers with a 41.6% strikeout rate. He’s one of only 18 qualified starters with a sub-3.00 ERA this season.
This is Strider’s first season going “tee to green,” as manager Brian Snitker put it, as a starting pitcher.
“I think he’s learned something every time he’s out there,” Snitker said. “You see him get through situations. We sit in there (in the clubhouse) and talk a lot of times. I say that, you know what, he hasn’t got a whole lot to judge on yet because his experiences are limited and he’s kind of learning on the fly. And he does a really good job of making in-game adjustments and getting through situations. He’ll continue to do that because he’s one of those guys that’s very studious and dedicated to what he’s doing, and consistent in what he’s doing. But all those new experiences, it’s gonna be good for him.”
Something that’s always apparent about Strider: He loves the craft. He lives and breathes pitching.
He enjoys digging into it.
“I wouldn’t say I’m a tinkerer. I try not to tinker,” he said. “But I do like to sort of try new things and figure out what’s going to help me and what I’m gonna do in a year from now that I still do it now or what I’m not gonna do in a year from now that I’m doing now. Yeah, that happens all the time. You don’t really know what it’s going to be and how things are going to change. It’s just sort of following success and staying committed to what you believe in.”
Strider is a routine-oriented person. He shows rare discipline for a young starting pitcher. He is dedicated to doing what he needs to prepare for any start.
“It’s huge,” Harris said. “I mean, you learn stuff from guys like that. Just knowing how much they care about preparation going into a game and how bad they want to win and get outs to help the team, it means a lot. It shows that they really care and really want to win a lot.”
Strider’s ceiling is high.
“I’ve certainly experienced a lot of growth in the last year and it’s kind of a trend I’ve been on for last few years,” he said. “It’s just figuring out more about myself.”
The surging Diamondbacks
Here’s a surprising development: The Diamondbacks, not projected to be among baseball’s best teams, are tied for the NL West lead.
In fact, Arizona’s 34-23 record was tied with the Dodgers for the top mark in the NL.
One of the D-backs’ traits: They like to run. They entered this weekend with 53 stolen bases, which ranked fourth in all of baseball.
“That’s one of those intangibles of a team that they’re very good at, because they have really good athletes – they’ve been working at that for a couple of years now,” Snitker said. “When we’ve been here before, they would kind of put their younger players in here, and they have talented guys, and are doing a good job with their scouting, their player development and they’re reaping the benefits of it right now.”