Why Braves’ Spencer Strider has a different mindset this spring

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Spencer Strider (99) throws a pitch during the first inning of a spring training baseball game at Charlotte Sports Park, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2024, in Port Charlotte, Fla. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Spencer Strider (99) throws a pitch during the first inning of a spring training baseball game at Charlotte Sports Park, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2024, in Port Charlotte, Fla. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Two years ago, Spencer Strider entered Braves camp with one goal: Make the team. He did everything he could to accomplish it.

“Every pitch I threw was the biggest pitch of my career at that point,” he said. “There was nothing held back, there was no apprehension. It was getting guys out and it was results, ultimately. That’s what matters in this industry, is the outcomes. But for me, I think the outcome I can track is just my intensity on every pitch and my focus. When I’ve focused on winning the game, then that intensity is usually where it needs to be.”

This is why Strider walked into the CoolToday Park clubhouse looking somewhat serious Saturday. He had a start that afternoon. It didn’t matter that it was a spring game – it was a game. He needed to get outs.

And when he took the mound, he fired 99 mph. He used all of his pitches – even his new curveball. He looked like himself as he struck out four batters, allowed one hit and issued one walk.

“That’s a pretty good place to start,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said of Strider’s spring debut, which the Braves won 6-5 over the Rays at Charlotte Sports Park.

Indeed. And it came from the experience of last spring. Strider is intelligent and analytical. He charts what works and what doesn’t in a detailed manner. He wanted to increase his intensity and focus this spring.

“Especially with a new pitch and some other stuff that we’re trying to do, I can’t evaluate it if I’m not taking it as seriously as possible and approaching it with the intent to guys out like I would in a season,” he said. “I can’t assume that hitters are going up there with a normal season approach, and they be taking (pitches) in certain counts and they might be looking for something different. But ultimately I’ve gotta adjust to those things, and if I’m not pitching the way I would normally to get outs, that feedback could be skewed a little bit.”

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As he begins his third season as a major leaguer – second as a full-time starter – Strider is working on a new pitch. He toyed with it in live batting practice earlier in the week.

“The curveball?” he said when asked about it.

He didn’t name it the other day.

“It’s a curveball,” he said Saturday.

Strider said he threw three of them Saturday. They registered around 81 mph. He was pleased with their effectiveness. He believes the pitch can be like his change-up, which helps him when he throws it because it gives hitters a different look and helps accent his fastball and slider – his two best pitches.

Will this curveball be a part of Strider’s repertoire this year?

“I think so,” he said. “We’ll see what capacity, as I hopefully can be consistent with its movement and everything, and figure out what shape is most effective and stuff like that. That’s why curveball, sweeper, whatever, I don’t know – whatever it turns into or whatever it can be, I think will be depending on a much larger sample size of data. I think it’s something that is very different than the other stuff I’m throwing, so it can be effective for me.”

Strider’s introduction of the curveball is symbolic of what makes him elite. Yes, he has talent and stuff. But he’s also always searching for ways to take the next step.

“That’s the thing I’ve seen,” Snitker said. “He’s always looking to add or get better. I don’t think guys like that are ever satisfied. They always feel like there’s something they can do to better themselves and make them more successful on the field.”

Here’s another example: Over the offseason, Strider focused on getting into supreme shape so that he could give full effort in his outings. He knew this was the only way to receive true feedback on where he’s at right now.

Spring training is laid-back. The environment is relaxed. The baseball is better some days than others.

For Strider, Saturday was serious.

“I honestly think that treating this like a real game is the best thing for me,” Strider said.

Season off to a good start

If you are superstitious about how things start, this one is for you: On the very first pitch of any game the Braves will play this year, Michael Harris II blasted a home run to right-center field.

Is this foreshadowing for the rest of the year?

Check back in eight and a half months.

First lineup

This was the first Braves batting order of the year:

CF Michael Harris II

2B David Fletcher

1B Marcell Ozuna

DH Phillip Evans

LF Jarred Kelenic

C Chadwick Tromp

3B Luis Guillorme

SS Ignacio “Nacho” Alvarez

RF Forrest Wall

Alvarez, one of the Braves’ top position-player prospects, had two hits, including a two-run double. Harris collected two hits. Ozuna and Guillorme each had a hit.

Ray Kerr, whom the Braves acquired from San Diego over the winter, allowed one run (on a homer) and two hits in an inning. Daysbel Hernandez, who made the postseason roster last year, surrendered a run on three hits in an inning.

Snitker said the regulars who didn’t play Saturday will be in the lineup Sunday.

Bryce Elder to start Sunday

Bryce Elder will start Sunday’s spring training home opener at CoolToday Park at 1:05 p.m. versus the Red Sox.

Elder is in competition for the fifth spot in the rotation. Reynaldo Lopez, AJ Smith-Shawver and Huascar Ynoa are the other main competitors.