Spencer Strider has elbow surgery to repair UCL, will miss rest of 2024 season

Braves ace underwent an internal-brace procedure performed by Dr. Keith Meister
Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Spencer Strider (65) delivers to the Philadelphia Phillies during the first inning of game three of the National League Division Series at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia on Friday, October 14, 2022. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

Credit: Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Spencer Strider (65) delivers to the Philadelphia Phillies during the first inning of game three of the National League Division Series at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia on Friday, October 14, 2022. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

MIAMI — The Braves will play without Spencer Strider for the remainder of 2024.

On Friday, Strider underwent surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow with an internal brace, the Braves announced Saturday. Dr. Keith Meister, who evaluated Strider earlier in the week, performed the procedure in Arlington, Texas.

As unfortunate as it is, season-ending surgery seemed like the expected route after the Braves announced Strider’s MRI revealed damage to the UCL in his right elbow. They called it a UCL sprain.

Instead of undergoing a traditional Tommy John surgery, the 25-year-old Strider and the Braves opted for an internal-brace procedure – which gives added support to the repaired UCL with fiber tape. In 2019, Strider underwent Tommy John surgery while pitching for Clemson, which means he has now had two elbow procedures.

The general recovery timeline for an internal-brace procedure is around 12 months – shorter than the typical Tommy John rehabilitation process. If Strider’s rehab goes as planned, he would be able to pitch early next season.

Strider is the latest star to have elbow surgery. Over the offseason, Shohei Ohtani had a second one. Last season, Jacob deGrom underwent his second one. Cleveland’s Shane Bieber just had surgery. The Yankees’ Gerrit Cole is dealing with a UCL injury, though it doesn’t appear to require surgery.

The good news is the expectation that Strider will heal fully. He eventually will be on a mound again wearing a Braves uniform. He can recapture, and perhaps build on, what has made him so dominant. One day, we might view this as simply a bump in his journey.

The bad news is the possibility that always existed when the Braves announced his injury: They are now without one of their aces for the rest of the season – a campaign that has World Series aspirations. In addition to being a strikeout maestro, Strider’s competitiveness and attitude rubs off on his team. In a short time, he’s become one of the club’s leaders.

The Braves’ World Series chances obviously are better with a healthy Strider. But the Braves are loaded still from top to bottom, even in the rotation.

Max Fried, Chris Sale and Charlie Morton are a formidable top three – and that doesn’t include any potential trade that could be made closer to the deadline. If pitching to their respective capabilities, Fried, Sale and Morton still could lead the Braves to the promised land.

And the Braves’ lineup might be the best in baseball. They have stars and depth. If there’s one guarantee with the Braves, it’s this: They’ll score runs, and lots of them.

Still, this is a huge disappointment for Strider, who seemed destined to be in the National League Cy Young Award conversation again. Fueled by the way last season ended, he added a curveball in the offseason – a pitch that fits his repertoire far better than his change-up. He also trained as hard as he could, just so his body wouldn’t need an adjustment period when he hit the mound in spring training.

When he arrived in North Port, Florida, he helped set the tone by talking about the club’s “World Series or bust” mindset. This – winning – is all he cares about, and he badly wanted to help his team do it this season.

“I don’t think we should be afraid to say we want to win a World Series,” Strider said at the time. “There’s kind of this aura around it that it’s something that’s out of your control. All outcomes are out of your control, but we want to leave everything out there to guarantee ourselves the best opportunity, the best chance. When the season is over, regardless of how we finish, I want to be able to say, for myself and the rest of us, we did everything we could at that time to try and secure the outcome we want.”

Strider, an All-Star for the first time last season, holds the Braves franchise record for strikeouts in a season – he compiled 281 last season to surpass John Smoltz’s 276. Strider’s 186-2/3 innings last season were the fewest by any pitcher who led the majors in strikeouts in MLB history. And Strider’s 433 strikeouts over his first 50 starts were the most of any big leaguer in history through that amount of career starts.

If healthy, Strider could set even more records. With a high-velocity fastball and devastating slider, Strider dazzled when he burst onto the scene. He’s only improved since then. And on top of his talent, his intelligence gives him another edge. He’s purposeful with everything he does. He has a reason for everything.

When Strider underwent Tommy John surgery in college, he used it as an opportunity to evolve. He shortened up his arm action. He tried to be intentional about everything he did – even outside of baseball. He followed his impulse by trying new hobbies. He rebuilt his mechanics.

So this upcoming year, when Strider cannot pitch, will be interesting. How will he spend it? What can he accomplish?

The news – Strider is out for the season – is difficult to stomach, but because of who he is and how he is, the best might still be ahead for Strider.