And on Saturday, Strider broke Smoltz’s record of 276 strikeouts by striking out three Nationals in a three-run first inning at Truist Park. He struck out Carter Kieboom to tie the record, then fanned Jake Alu to notch the record-breaking 277th strikeout of the season.
“It’s special, I’m grateful,” Strider said after setting a record and recording his 20th win. “I don’t play, necessarily, to achieve records or break records. I think my satisfaction comes from us winning and giving my team a chance to win. I haven’t had to be that spectacular this year because we have such an incredible team. There’s a lot of things that I feel like I can improve on that will hopefully make it easier for those guys (so) they don’t have to pick me up as much next year. It’s special. It’s an understatement to say this is a special organization with a lot of history, so I’m grateful to be a part of it.”
The day before Strider broke his record, Smoltz seems sure of this: It will not be Strider’s final record. This is only the beginning.
“He’s got all the ability in the world to break his record, my record, other records,” Smoltz told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution over the phone. “This is just, like, (nothing). He’s gonna strike out over 300 guys easily when he progresses. He’s got, what, 50 less innings than me?”
More than that. Strider on Saturday set the franchise record in 182-2/3 innings.
Smoltz logged 253-2/3 innings in 1996, his record-setting season in which he won the National League Cy Young Award.
Smoltz’s point here, and in most of the conversation: Strider is a strikeout pitcher who built himself to cater to today’s game. He crept toward Smoltz’s record while throwing fewer innings, which is why Smoltz felt a sense of inevitability with this.
“It’s electric stuff,” Smoltz said of Strider. “The ball comes out of his hand in a way that you got a little drool coming out of your mouth. He definitely, in getting to know his story, reinvented himself and created a nice avenue for him to maximize the style and philosophy of the way the game is played today. He is taking advantage of it similarly to the way that (Rangers ace) Jacob deGrom is taking advantage of it – although they go about it in totally different ways. But they both have dominant stuff. It’s pretty amazing.”
Strider also holds the MLB record for the being the fastest to 200 strikeouts in a season. He set it in 2022, then broke his won record this season.
Strider passing Smoltz on Saturday felt inevitable, even as he struggled in the first inning. Entering Saturday, Strider had struck out at least three batters in all 51 career starts. He simply had to do it once more. That he did so only added to Strider’s remarkable journey to this point.
Strider, who struck out seven batters over five innings on Saturday, leads the majors with 281 strikeouts. Kevin Gausman, who is second place, has 237. Strider’s 186 2/3 innings pitched are the fewest by any pitcher who led the majors in strikeouts over a full season in MLB history.
His 3.86 ERA – which he wishes were lower – would be second to Hall of Famer Bob Feller for the highest ERA of a pitcher who led baseball in strikeouts. (Feller had a 4.12 ERA and 240 strikeouts in 1938).
“It’s incredible to watch him pitch, honestly,” Ronald Acuña said. “Just to be able to have him go out there every five days, I feel like he always goes out and does a tremendous job. Just the hard work, the dedication, the focus he puts into those (starts), I feel like it’s contagious and it sort of rubs off on everyone else and makes everyone else focus and put in that hard work. I’m extremely happy for him and I’m not surprised he broke the records, and I hope he keeps breaking more and more records.”
In 2019, Strider underwent Tommy John surgery, which requires a rehab process that can last anywhere from 12 to 18 months, in most cases. This gave Strider a blank slate. He could be intentional about his delivery, his arm action, his pitches – everything. And this is what he did. He put purpose into everything he did.
In hearing Strider’s interviews since bursting onto the major-league scene, Smoltz learned about all of this. “I’m blown away by that transformation,” he said. From his mechanics to his diet (Strider is a vegan), Strider has a reason for everything. When hearing him discuss it, you’re impressed by his intelligence and determination.
And Braves fans will love this: Smoltz thinks Strider can get even better.
“The reason I know he has levels he can get to is because right now, he’s being taught to throw it basically right down the middle,” Smoltz said. “And when he learns that there’s a side of the plate that he can go to, and dominate on that side consistently, the league has no chance. And then he’ll be able to win when he doesn’t have his electric, eye-popping stuff, which you’re not gonna have every single time.”
Strider could be an ace for Atlanta for years. He has it all, from the stuff – including high velocity – to his smarts and perseverance.
This is only the start of something special.
“There’s no telling what he can accomplish in his career,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said before Saturday’s game.