What’s the Braves’ long-term plan for versatile flamethrower Spencer Strider?

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

When Spencer Strider pitched at Clemson, the baseball program’s pitchers adopted a mentality: You’re always closing.

“You go get one guy for one inning, and then if you earn the next inning, you just go back out and you keep doing it until they take the ball,” Strider said.

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Starter? Reliever? To Strider, it doesn’t matter. He’s always closing.

“That’s my mentality no matter what (the Braves) do, what they need from me,” he said.

How will the Braves use Spencer Strider?

As Strider has dazzled to start this season, with each 100-mph fastball whizzing by the next bat, many watching this team have wondered something: How will the Braves use him now and in the future?

The Braves view Strider as a starting pitcher long term. Right now, he’s a member of their bullpen who can make a start if necessary. He can also cover innings behind a starting pitcher.

The Braves have off days on Monday, Thursday and May 19, which means they won’t immediately need a fifth starter. This is part of the reason why Strider, at this moment, isn’t a clear-cut member of the rotation.

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Most recently, the Braves used an opener in front of Strider, who followed Jesse Chavez by hurling four scoreless innings with eight strikeouts. The Braves had a few reasons for employing an opener instead of giving Strider a clean start.

The goal was this: They wanted to put Strider in the best position to succeed while also getting his pitch count up in the outing.

Strider entered the game to begin the second inning. Three of the first five batters he faced were righties, and these favorable righty-on-righty matchups perhaps helped him settle into his appearance. In Game 4 of the World Series, the Braves aided Kyle Wright in this same way as they pinpointed his entrance point based on a certain part of the lineup they felt could help him smoothly begin his outing. (Wright held the Astros to a run over 4 ⅔ innings and now has a 1.74 ERA through five starts this season).

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Not only did the Braves successfully use Chavez as an opener last season but doing so Friday helped them safely work in Strider. Prior to his most recent appearance, Strider hadn’t thrown more than 33 pitches in an outing since April 17. He tossed a season-high 69 pitches in a season-high four innings versus Milwaukee.

“You look at him and I just think he’s a pitcher right now,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I don’t know that he needs to have a defined role just yet, because that will establish itself with work and innings. The best thing we can do for him is to continue to give him innings. Every inning he gets is going to be good for him. You could slot him into a couple different spots. I don’t know what the right one is right now.”

‘He’s fearless’

Strider has a 2.16 ERA over 16 ⅔ innings this season. He is one of only two Braves pitchers (the other was David Hale) since 1985 to begin his career with a 2.37 ERA or better in at least 19 innings over his first eight career games.

Strider, who debuted last season, throws a four-seam fastball, slider and change-up. His fastball, which regularly hits triple digits, averages 98.5 mph, which ranks third in the majors. He averages 85 mph with his slider. His electric stuff has allowed him to strike out 24 of 66 batters faced, and those strikeouts are the most by a reliever through his first eight career games in Braves history.

“You look at him and I just think he's a pitcher right now. I don't know that he needs to have a defined role just yet, because that will establish itself with work and innings."

- Braves manager Brian Snitker, on Spencer Strider

Even in an undefined role, Strider has turned heads this season. He broke camp with the big club and, while anything can happen, he has stuck for obvious reasons.

Said teammate Wright, a starting pitcher: “It’s just his attack. He’s fearless. It’s a 100-mph fastball and he says, ‘Here it is, see if you can hit it.’ So far, not too many people have. He’s done just a good enough job with his off-speed stuff. I feel like he’s throwing it for a strike, and I feel like guys have to respect that. Once he throws one off-speed pitch for a strike, it’s really tough to stay ready for 100 but also try to hit (85).”

Said teammate Matt Olson, a hitter: “When you have to be ready for that kind of a heater, it makes the off-speed that much better. Not only is he throwing good off-speed with the fastball, (but) he knows where it’s going and it’s got a good break. That whole combo of stuff, it’s a tough at-bat.”

‘I think the sky’s the limit for him’

Strider could eventually grab the fifth starter spot. Huascar Ynoa and Bryce Elder, who both have held the role this season, are in Triple-A. Meanwhile, Strider continues growing.

Strider, drafted in 2020, is only 23 years old. He’s still learning. He will go through ups and downs.

But he’s proven something: The Braves can use him in different ways. As a starter behind an opener. As a long reliever. As a regular reliever. His mix of stuff and brains has helped him break onto the scene so early. “He’s phenomenal,” starting pitcher Ian Anderson said.

“Definitely intelligent, definitely wants to get better, definitely into all the new-school pitching stuff,” Anderson said.

Anderson first saw Strider at the alternate site in 2020, right after the Braves drafted Strider. “Came in just throwing gas,” Anderson said. In that way, nothing has changed. He is throwing harder than ever.

But Strider has shown he isn’t simply a flamethrower. He can pitch. With each outing, he learns more.

For now, the Braves could use him in multiple roles. Remember this, though: They see him as a starting pitcher long term, regardless of how they utilize him this season.

“I think the sky’s the limit for him,” Anderson said.