From alternate site to MLB: Michael Harris, Spencer Strider impacting Braves

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Two years ago, as the Braves made their way through the condensed COVID-19 season, Michael Harris and Spencer Strider honed their crafts daily at the organization’s alternate site. As recent draft picks, they toiled away trying to improve.

At that time, no one could have seen this coming.

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Two years after spending time together at the alternate site, they have burst onto the scene in the majors. They are not helping a rebuilding squad or a fringe contender. No, they have made significant contributions to the reigning World Series champions.

“It’s something you hope for, and most times people don’t get to live it out or see it through,” Harris told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution before Friday’s game versus the Nationals. “We definitely both had the same hopes and dreams, and now we’re living out that same dream, for the former World Series champs. We’re just trying to get back there and repeat.”

Since June, the Braves have rolled. They have played complete baseball. They look like the team we expected them to be this season. They have trimmed their National League East deficit.

Their dominant run has coincided with a couple of occurrences: Calling up Harris on May 28 and inserting Strider into the rotation May 30. Coincidence? Probably not. Harris and Strider are two players who could win National League Rookie of the Year this fall.

“I feel like we’re both just doing what we’ve been doing in the past, not try to do too much or let the moment get too big for us,” Harris said. “I feel like the work and preparation that we’ve had the last couple seasons, I guess, is really paying off now. We’re just really going out there and doing what we know we can do, and helping the team win in any way.”

Over the first 39 games of his career, Harris is batting .310 with an .884 OPS. He has seven home runs and 24 RBIs. Among baseball’s rookies with enough at-bats to qualify entering Friday, Harris ranked second in OPS, second in slugging percentage and third in batting average.

Harris on Friday might have had the best game of his young career. He went 4-for-4 with four RBIs, setting new career highs in hits and RBIs.

As of Friday, Strider led the Braves with 102 strikeouts over 65-2/3 innings. He has a 2.60 ERA. Among rookies with enough innings to qualify, he ranks first in strikeouts, first in batting average against and second in ERA.

Since moving from the bullpen to the rotation, Strider has a 2.83 ERA over eight starts. He has surrendered two or fewer runs in six of those starts.

“I think a lot of it was just keeping track of: What were the takeaways from the success I had out of the ‘pen, and how does that translate into a starting role?” Strider said after Thursday’s outing. “I don’t try to do too much, I just try and get outs. I think it’s the same mindset. … Kind of pitching the same way, really. It hasn’t been too big of an adjustment, just a bit more focus on maintaining energy and not letting things run away with me and try and muscle up too much. Just be in the zone, throw strikes and get outs.”

Here is something that perhaps has benefited Harris and Strider to this point: At a time when many of the game’s young prospects are heavily relied upon, they are surrounded by proven big leaguers. They share a clubhouse with Ronald Acuña and Matt Olson, Dansby Swanson and Austin Riley, Max Fried and Charlie Morton.

Harris and Strider don’t need to be the saviors for this club. They need only to be themselves and contribute however they can.

“Yeah, that definitely helps,” Harris said. “We just come in and do our part, and we know they’re going to do their part. It’s really everybody tying in together and not putting a lot of pressure on ourselves because we know they can do a lot of good things, and when we’re putting in what we can do, we’re a good team.”

Since Harris’ debut, followed by Strider becoming the fifth starter, the Braves have accomplished a lot. They won 14 in a row in June. They cut into their divisional deficit. They have won series over the Giants, Cardinals and Phillies. They played the Dodgers tough.

The Braves are a different team than they were over the first month-plus of the season.

They just so happened to turn the corner when two rookies took on large roles.

“We’ve been playing some really good baseball,” Harris said. “Even when we lose, they’re hard-fought games. We don’t quit, we always come back at the end, even if we’re losing the whole game. We’re feeling good, feeling confident, and we’re winning a bunch of series. We’re just feeling good.”

All is well with Kenley Jansen

Kenley Jansen on Friday threw off the mound. He has done this a few times this week.

He might be on the injured list with an irregular heartbeat, but he has been able to continue throwing. Jansen is eligible to come off the injured list on July 12, and manager Brian Snitker made it sound as if the closer would be ready to return as soon as he can.

“He’s good,” Snitker said. “There’s nothing wrong with his arm or anything like that. We’re fortunate that he’s able to keep (the throwing) going.”

Adam Duvall goes on the paternity list

The Braves on Friday placed Adam Duvall on the paternity list. They recalled Mike Ford to take his spot on the roster.

Duvall will be back for Monday’s series opener versus the Mets, Snitker said.