Braves starter Spencer Strider has handled a heavier workload

MIAMI – Five years ago, Spencer Strider graduated from high school. Two years ago, the Braves drafted him. A year-and-a-half ago, he began his first full season in professional baseball.

Now he’s in a big-league starting rotation, hurling many more innings than he ever has in his baseball life.

“When you’re in high school and college,” Strider said, “it’s a smaller amount, for sure.”

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To this point, Strider has thrown 89-2/3 innings, with more to come. It’s likely going to be a large increase from the 96-1/3 frames he tossed in 2021, between the minor leagues and his brief stint in the majors. And if Strider remains healthy, he’ll more than double the total (81 innings) from his freshman season in college, which was his only full season on the mound at Clemson. (He had Tommy John surgery in 2019 before COVID-19 ruined the 2020 season.)

The Braves have said Strider will not have an innings limit this year. Strider said president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos, who has said it publicly, also expressed it to him. “I agree with it,” Strider said. “I’m happy that he went ahead and said it.”

But how does Strider handle the increased workload?

Well, to start, he said pitching as a starter is more taxing on his entire body than on his arm. “I don’t get arm sore as much as I get body tired,” he said. But he added that offseason conditioning often goes into how well he might deal with throwing more innings.

Strider feels like he’s able to bounce back well after starts. He’s adjusted to his new workload. He said he learned a lot during his first professional season in 2021, when he began pitching every five days instead of every seven, as in high school and college.

“I don’t need to lift as heavy during the week to still throw hard or still pitch well,” Strider said. “I don’t have to do as intensive throwing in my bullpens or just day to day. I’m doing this every five days, I’m doing it all the time. It’s going to be there. So what I need to not do is do too much, and then I tire myself out. That’s really what it is. The longer the season goes, for me at least, the less I do in between each start. I’m just trying to preserve energy and just let my body and what I trained for take over.”

Along with teammate Michael Harris, Strider is a top candidate for National League Rookie of the Year. (Right now, that seems like it will be a difficult vote). Strider has a 3.11 ERA through 24 appearances, 13 of which are starts. Despite beginning the year as a reliever and having fewer innings than other starting pitchers, the right-hander ranks sixth in the NL and 11th in MLB with 138 strikeouts.

Teams don’t need to use a hard innings limit to keep pitchers safe. Manager Brian Snitker has discussed the Braves’ handling of Strider by monitoring his stressful innings. In two or three games this season, Snitker said, he has pulled Strider when Strider wanted to continue pitching.

“I’m not doing this for today, I’m doing it for two months down the road,” Snitker has told Strider.

Pitchers can remain healthy without a strict innings limit.

“The biggest thing is they’ve got to learn that they’re going to have to do things differently in their workouts and in-between (starts) stuff,” Snitker said. “You’ve got to be more aware of that, too. But I think he’s done a great job. I think just the consistency in his work and what he does, he’s got a really good idea about his body and his arm and what he’s doing.”

Braves shuffle their rotation

If you missed this Friday night, here it is again: The Braves shuffled their rotation because Kyle Wright is experiencing arm fatigue.

“Big-league innings are different than Triple-A innings, I’ve learned,” Wright said. “Body just kind of not recovering as well, so just a little bit of a blow to help me finish strong.”

Ian Anderson and Strider were slated to start the games in Saturday’s doubleheader. Instead, the Braves recalled Kyle Muller to start Game 1, while Anderson was their scheduled Game 2 starter.

After Friday’s game, Snitker made it seem as if Strider and Charlie Morton might pitch Monday and Tuesday (in either order) versus the Mets, while keeping Jake Odorizzi on schedule for Wednesday. This could change because the Braves are dealing with moving parts. Morton had been scheduled to start Sunday’s game against the Marlins, but the Braves have not yet announced a starter for the series finale here.

In addition to Wright’s arm fatigue, Max Fried is on the seven-day concussion injured list. He is eligible to return Monday, but said he didn’t want to put a timetable on when he would pitch next.

On Friday night, Wright said he had experienced some soreness and tightness in his right arm. But he added it felt better after doing some work on it. He expects to pitch next week.

In taking the extra rest now, Wright hopes to be healthy for the rest of the season.

“That’s kind of what I told myself: I don’t need to be a hero right now,” Wright said. “If it’s a couple days right now that can give me that break I need to be able to finish strong, that’s what I want to do.”

To add Muller, the Braves optioned right-hander Jay Jackson following Friday’s win over Miami. Anderson was their 27th man for the doubleheader.

The Braves then optioned Muller following the first game, recalling Bryce Elder to take his place as a fresh arm.