Braves need Ian Anderson back to help shaky pitching depth

Right-handed pitcher is recovering from Tommy John surgery
Braves starting pitcher Ian Anderson works on strength and conditioning during the first full-squad spring training workout at CoolToday Park, Tuesday, Feb., 20, 2024, in North Port, Florida. (Hyosub Shin /



Braves starting pitcher Ian Anderson works on strength and conditioning during the first full-squad spring training workout at CoolToday Park, Tuesday, Feb., 20, 2024, in North Port, Florida. (Hyosub Shin /

NORTH PORT, Fla. — First things first: Ian Anderson doesn’t know when he’ll pitch for the big-league Braves again. He’s throwing on flat ground about 10 months after Tommy John surgery and said he’s feeling good about his recovery. But there’s a lot of steps between now and competitive games against professional hitters.

“I don’t want to put like a strict date on it because that just puts some expectations out there,” Anderson said Tuesday at the team’s spring training complex. “But hopefully sometime middle of the summer I’m back (on the mound) and then pitching in games and one thing leads to another.”

Where Anderson ends up is important for him and the Braves. If the ailing elbow was the reason for Anderson’s declining results that started in 2022 – Anderson said he’s not sure about that – then the chances are good that he’ll become an effective starter again. And if that happens, then it will boost the Braves for 2024 and beyond.

A return to form for Anderson would help the team’s pitching depth, which is the one shaky area this season. The Braves are looking for a fifth starter in spring training. Chris Sale and Charlie Morton are Nos. 3 and 4 in the rotation. Injuries have limited Sale to 151 innings over the past three years, and Morton is 40 years old.

The Braves could end up needing Anderson, who was no worse than their third-best starter in 2021. If he reached that level again this season, then that would be one less team need for the offseason. With Anderson back to form, the Braves wouldn’t have to worry as much about Max Fried’s pending free agency or Morton’s possible retirement.

Anderson and Fried are the last pitchers left from the Braves’ rebuild around arms. Fried, 30, twice has finished among the top five in voting for the NL Cy Young Award. Anderson, 25, appeared to be on his way to stardom, too. The Braves made Anderson the first pitcher selected in the 2016 amateur draft, and he was an instant hit when he made it to the majors four years later.

Anderson compiled a 3.25 ERA over 30 starts spanning 2020 and 2021. He struck out 165 batters in 160-2/3 innings while walking only 67. Hitters were swinging and missing on Anderson’s sharp change-ups and curveballs. Anderson was even better in eight postseason starts. His 1.26 postseason ERA includes five shutout innings in Game 3 of the 2021 World Series against the Astros.

Anderson was pitching like a seasoned veteran at 23 years old and then, suddenly, he struggled to get outs.

Anderson began 2022 with five runs allowed in 2-2/3 innings against the Reds. His results were better through mid-May, but then he kept having more bad outings than good. The Braves gave Anderson plenty of chances to work through his struggles (22 starts with a 5.00 ERA) before finally sending him to Triple-A Gwinnett.

Anderson had to win a rotation spot during spring training last year. He tried to do it while feeling pain in his elbow. The results were predictable. Anderson said he had to “try too hard” to produce his usual velocity and command. The Braves sent Anderson back to the minors, where he made one ineffective start before shutting down.

“Me being that maybe in the competitor that I am, I thought I could pitch through it,” Anderson said. “I thought I was still good enough to compete for a spot. Once things kind of folded out the way they did, I felt like it was probably the time to bring it up and say something.

“I’m glad I did. It was definitely wearing on me a little bit mentally, just kind of how quickly everything kind of switched. I knew I wasn’t myself,”

Did elbow pain contribute to Anderson’s struggles during the 2022 season?

“I’m not exactly sure about that,” he said. “Maybe towards the end of that year. But, you know, I try not to look back that far now. It’s (been) over a year now. I just look back more on (2023) and obviously look forward to this year and the years and years beyond.”

Tommy John surgery won’t necessarily prevent Anderson from reaching his previous level as a pitcher. Several pitchers have been successful after Tommy John surgery. Some of MLB’s best did it: Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander and Shohei Ohtani.

Anderson said he’s now throwing four times a week from 120 feet. Anderson won’t be pitching in any spring training games, but he said he’s glad to be back around his teammates. Anderson said it was hard to keep his usual “happy-go-lucky” attitude when he was getting poor results on the mound.

“I felt like it was part of the part of the process, so to speak, to kind of come back from those struggles, but obviously it got to a point where it wasn’t worth it anymore,” Anderson said.

Now Anderson is focused on rehabilitation thresholds instead of pitching. He said he started focusing more on his throwing mechanics after the surgery. Anderson decided that he needed to generate more power from his lower body and allow his arm to “come through” after.

The early results from that change are good, Anderson said, but he’s not sure what the final product will look like.

“I guess that’s to be decided when you guys see me again,” Anderson told reporters.