Three years after Tommy John surgery, Spencer Strider in mix for Braves rotation spot

NORTH PORT, Fla. — In 2019, Spencer Strider bought a kayak and paddled around in it. He fished a lot. He even played a ton of poker. He watched a lot of baseball but couldn’t play it.

As he recovered from Tommy John surgery, which forced him to miss the entire season, he found other ways to occupy himself. The long process taught him a lot, physically and mentally.

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“Wasn’t even on the field at all, didn’t go between the lines, so there was a lot of moments where I was just trying to control what I could control,” Strider said. “Some days, watching the game was the most intense thing that I did. I didn’t get to do anything else. Learned how to have a purpose behind everything, and I think that’s been the biggest piece of my development, is just how to attribute purpose to everything.”

How do you attribute purpose to everything?

Well, here’s an example.

“If riding the bike for 20 minutes is the most intense thing I get to do in a day, then I pretend that that’s my game,” Strider said. “That’s my fifth day in the rotation and I’m going to ride the hell out of that bike for 20 minutes. Look forward to that all day and just try to have something that’s as big as baseball, even though I couldn’t play it.”

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Three years after undergoing Tommy John surgery, Strider is in camp with the Braves, throwing gas, making hitters look foolish with his off-speed pitches if they sit on his fastball. The righty is coming off a season in which he went from Low-A to the majors.

The Braves play 14 games in 14 days before their first off day in the regular season, so they’re leaning toward using a six-man rotation. Strider is in the mix for that sixth spot with Kyle Muller and Tucker Davidson.

Strider on Monday potentially strengthened his case with 2 ⅓ scoreless innings as he started a game the Braves won, 5-4, over Toronto. He struck out two and walked two. He lit up the radar gun as he hit 100 mph multiple times. (He threw a 101 mph fastball in Triple-A last year).

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“He’s got a big arm,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said.

Strider throws gas, but his off-speed pitches are just as important. His change-up – which he rebuilt this offseason – and his breaking ball were on display Monday.

“Guys are so geared for my fastball, so if I can just be around the zone with some of my off-speed pitches, especially early in the count, now guys are having to guess a little bit more,” Strider said. “The fastball, it’s going to play better. And I’m going to get a lot of ugly swings on my off-speed pitches, even if they’re not close to the zone.”

Last Strider heard – which he admitted isn’t too recent – the Braves view him as a starter. But he said he only wants to help the big club and is willing to do anything to accomplish that. He received a small taste (two appearances) of the big leagues last season and wants more.

It appears he might not have to pitch out of the bullpen to impact the team. He’s in consideration to be the sixth starter.

And when considering important times in his development, Strider pointed to his Tommy John rehab.

“There were moments when it seemed like I was really far away from being back to where I wanted to be, and I just had to remind myself that it’s a process,” he said. “I can’t speed it up, I can only slow it down, and I don’t want to slow it down, so let’s find a way to be purposeful with everything.”

Alex Dickerson not playing GM

Asked about his chances of making the team, Alex Dickerson shrugged and opted not to get into it. He said he doesn’t have any pull in that decision, so he doesn’t think too hard about it.

“You try to play GM in spring training,” he said, “you’ll drive yourself nuts.”

He soon added: “You learn that very early.”

Dickerson is a left-handed bat and the Braves could use another for balance off the bench, so he’s receiving a good opportunity to break camp with the big club. He homered off righty Brandon Brennan in Sunday’s simulated game. Dickerson is 1-for-9 with five walks this spring.

Dickerson, who could be a backup outfielder and designated hitter, insists he’s not stressing over decisions that aren’t his to make.

“The only thing you have control of is yourself,” Dickerson said. “You’re paid to play baseball; you’re paid to just compete at a high level. That’s really all you can do, all you have control over. It’s just about going out there and doing what you’ve been doing your whole life and letting it all play out.”

Brian Snitker raves about top prospect Michael Harris

Michael Harris, the Braves’ top prospect, will begin the season in Double-A. Snitker has said in the past that a prospect is a big-league candidate when he reaches that level.

“I’m all over Michael Harris,” Snitker said. “I love that kid. It’s hard not to when that’s what they look like, with the skill set. He just needs some more experience, that’s all. He needs to play a little bit. He’s still a young kid with limited (time in the) minor leagues.”

Double-A is a natural next step for Harris after he spent 2021 in High-A. Over 101 High-A games, Harris hit .294 with a .798 on-base plus slugging percentage. He blasted seven home runs and drove in 64 runs. He stole 27 bases in 31 attempts.

William Contreras could move around the diamond

Snitker on Sunday wasn’t kidding – William Contreras could actually move out from behind the plate.

The manager on Monday said Contreras could play some right field if he begins the season in Triple-A. Why? Well, Contreras provided a glimpse of that in Monday’s game when he blasted an opposite-field homer.

His bat could be his ticket into the lineup.

“That was the whole reasoning behind that is to get him some experience other places,” Snitker said. “He’s an athletic kid.”

A day off for the Braves

The Braves have been working daily since reporting to camp March 13. Tuesday marks their first team-wide off day in the schedule.

Snitker said they’re treating it as a true off day. They won’t hold an official workout. This worked perfectly, Snitker said, because the Braves wouldn’t have had a starter for a Tuesday game due to last Thursday’s rainout.

“Kind of ready for (an off day) now,” he said. “Been going long enough, I think, that it’ll be a good day for all of them to have it off.”

Notes from a 5-4 win over the Blue Jays

  • Ozzie Albies homered in the same inning as Contreras.
  • Will Smith and Kenley Jansen each pitched a scoreless inning.
  • Tyler Matzek didn’t make it out of his inning. He recorded two outs but was charged with three runs.