The Braves won their ninth consecutive game Friday, defeating the Pirates 4-2 to take the first two of a four-game series at Truist Park.
Here are five takeaways from Friday:
1. Spencer Strider allowed six runs (four earned) over 8-1/3 innings during his first two starts. He issued seven walks in that span. But on Friday, he looked more like the reliever who dazzled and racked up strikeouts by attacking the zone.
Strider, in the best start of his young career, held the Pirates scoreless over 5-2/3 innings. He allowed four hits, struck out eight and walked just one – a drastic improvement after Strider issued five walks in his last start in Colorado.
“My plan and focus coming in was … having a good line to the plate every pitch, no matter what the count was or situation was,” Strider said. “Just focus on being in line to the plate I felt like that would set me up for success. I got too complicated last outing, and as a result, when things started unraveling on me, I didn’t have anything to fall back on. I wanted to simplify things and that was my focus.”
2. The Pirates’ offense won’t be confused for the Yankees or Dodgers. The collective average of Pittsburgh’s lineup Friday: .218, and that’s with Ke’Bryan Hayes (.289) and Michael Chavis (.270) boosting that number. But Strider looked confident and comfortable.
Strider averaged 97.7 mph on his fastball. He induced 18 whiffs on 53 swings (34%), 11 of which came on his fastball. His slider produced six whiffs in nine swings. He mixed in his change-up, which he gives him a three-pitch mix he trusts.
“That’s one of the things I really like about our organizational pitching approach, there’s no point in having pitches that aren’t effective,” Strider said. “That held me back coming into last season, I was trying to throw five or six pitches, and I was barely able to command the fastball at that point, so I had no business trying to dip into that kind of arsenal. If you’re going to be successful, you need to throw pitches that are good pitches. I feel confident in all three of them in any count.”
Manager Brian Snitker: “He used his assortment more tonight. His slider was a bigger part. I don’t think he threw that many change-ups, but it was good. To go six innings was good, awesome. That’s the next step in his getting to where we want to be.”
Braves 4, Pirates 2 (box score)
3. Shortstop Dansby Swanson opened the scoring with a two-run shot off Pirates starter Roansy Contreras in the third. It was Swanson’s first homer since May 25.
Swanson hit .330/.395/.485 over his past 26 games entering the night. He went 3-for-4 Friday with two RBIs and a run scored, continuing what’s become a fruitful contract season for the 28-year-old. He has a trio of three-hit efforts since May 24, including two in his past seven contests.
4. Strider exited with runners at the corners and two out in the sixth. Enter lefty Dylan Lee, one of several relievers who has stepped up with injuries in the Braves’ bullpen. He struck out Cal Mitchell on five pitches to keep Strider’s line pristine.
Lee, 27, hasn’t allowed a run in six appearances this season (9-1/3 innings). Since rejoining the bullpen earlier this month, he’s allowed just one hit over three outings.
5. The Braves’ nine-game winning streak is their longest since another nine-game run last August. Only three NL teams have produced multiple nine-game winning streaks over the past five years: the Dodgers (three times), the Brewers (twice) and now the Braves (twice).
Their streak is the longest in the National League this season and two behind tying the longest run in the majors (11, achieved by the Yankees and Astros). The Braves’ 13-4 mark over the past 17 games is best in the NL.
Stat to know
59-23 (The Braves have outscored opponents 59-23 over the last nine games.)
The Braves had their 14th sellout of the campaign Friday, welcoming 41,404 fans to Truist Park. Only once have the Braves failed to top 30,000 in attendance over their first 32 home games (they had 29,339 Wednesday, May 25, against the Phillies).
“Dansby, when he made that (stellar defensive) play, I had some flutter for sure. I see what the women see in him. It got me fired up. Dansby is the man.” – Strider on Swanson
The Braves and Pirates play their third contest of the four-game series Saturday. Charlie Morton (4-3, 5.63) will face one of his old teams. Pittsburgh will start Zach Thompson (3-4, 4.60).