Ian Anderson needed a reset. He’ll have the reset almost every pitcher gets – Tommy John surgery. He’ll miss the rest of this season but, assuming he comes through TJ A-OK, that’s a small price to pay if the reward is getting the real Anderson back in a year or so.
After months of wondering what was amiss with Anderson, the Braves surely took relief in Tuesday’s news. Nobody likes having surgery of any sort. Nobody looks forward to a year’s rehab. But TJ is the one procedure – maybe the only one – where the cure trumps all manner of inconvenience. Pitchers often return from their first round of TJ throwing harder than at their pre-surgical peak.
ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel just ranked MLB’s top 10 starting pitchers. Five, he noted, have had Tommy John. Both his “just missed” names have had it. That’s seven of 12. That’s the way of the baseball world. It’s only a slight overstatement to say there are two types of pitchers – those who’ve had TJ, and those who will soon.
Justin Verlander had TJ in the fall of 2020. He was 37. He missed the 2021 season. He won the American League Cy Young Award in 2022 by unanimous vote. He was a major reason the Astros won the World Series. At 39, he signed with the Mets for two seasons at $86.6 million. His yearly salary matches teammate Max Scherzer’s as the fattest ever.
Anderson is 24. He became a Brave in 2016 as the No. 3 overall draftee. He was just out of high school. He made his big-league debut on Aug. 26, 2020. On Oct. 18, he started Game 7 of the NLCS against the Dodgers. He exited with his team holding a lead. The Braves would lose 4-3.
On Oct. 26, 2021, Anderson became the second starting pitcher in MLB annals to leave a World Series game having not yielded a hit. The first was Don Larsen in 1956. (Houston’s Cristian Javier became the third last October.) By then, Anderson had become a postseason fixture.
He’d started eight playoff games; the Braves won seven. Over 35-2/3 innings, he’d struck out 40 while yielding 17 hits. His postseason ERA was 1.26. Bob Gibson’s was 1.89, Sandy Koufax’s 0.95. That was the sort of company young Mr. Anderson was keeping.
Then he wasn’t. The Braves demoted him to Gwinnett last August. His ERA was 5.00. Over four starts in Triple-A, his ERA was 5.40. The playoff star took no part in the Braves’ 2022 postseason, brief though it was. Spring training went no better – three appearances, 7-1/3 innings, eight walks, a 6.14 ERA. Expected to contend for a spot in the Braves’ rotation, the man who was once their No. 3 starter was optioned to the minors in mid-March.
He made one Gwinnett start. He didn’t last an inning. He walked two. He yielded four hits, three of them home runs. His ERA for 2023 will forever read “54.00.”
We don’t know how long Anderson has had arm issues. We know he was put on the injured list with a sore elbow after managing but two outs against the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. (Minor-league nicknames, we say again, are the best.) When elbows go wrong, the remedy is TJ.
We won’t see Anderson again for a while. We will see him again. Nobody gives up on a pitcher after TJ. Heck, the Braves acquired Max Fried from the Padres while he was rehabbing from TJ. At his best, Anderson was a big-time prospect – Baseball America ranked him No. 8 overall in spring 2021 – who became a big-league fixture. Something went wrong. TJ can make things go right again.
As for the 2023 Braves and their pitching: Fried isn’t far from returning; Kyle Wright’s delayed debut was less than sensational; Jared Shuster and Dylan Dodd are back in the minors. But Michael Soroka – remember him? – had another encouraging start for Gwinnett on Tuesday. Were I you, I’d stay tuned.
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