Spencer Strider stops the bleeding for the Braves

Back-to-back strong outings vs. Phillies
Atlanta Braves' starting pitcher Spencer Strider (99) throws against the Philadelphia Phillies during the first inning at Truist Park, Tuesday, September 19, 2023, in Atlanta. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)


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Atlanta Braves' starting pitcher Spencer Strider (99) throws against the Philadelphia Phillies during the first inning at Truist Park, Tuesday, September 19, 2023, in Atlanta. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)



Spencer Strider was on his way to a dominant outing. It ended up being merely good by his standards when Bryce Harper smacked a three-run home run. Strider pitched more than good enough for the Braves to win 9-3 on Tuesday at Truist Park. They needed that.

The Braves had lost four straight games with starting pitchers allowing 18 runs over 16 2/3 innings. The Phillies opened the series by knocking around Kyle Wright. Lefty Max Fried has his last start pushed back because of a blister on the index finger of his throwing hand. Those trends increased my skepticism about whether the Braves have enough quality pitching depth to win the World Series.

Strider calmed that brewing storm. He’s been less of a sure thing later in the season, but that makes two good starts in a row, both against the Phillies. Strider held them to a run over seven innings in Philly last week. In the rematch, the Phillies got Harper’s homer and not much else over seven.

Said Braves catcher Travis d’Arnaud: “He was able to get early contact, he was able to get swing and miss, he was able to get (called strikes). He was able to just pitch. It was fun.”

The Braves need more of that from Strider going into October. His top-line results have been ordinary for more than three months. Strider had a 2.97 ERA through June 3 (12 starts). Until Tuesday, Strider had given up four runs or more in seven of his past 17 starts with a 4.26 ERA. But look beyond runs allowed and Strider’s underlying numbers are still strong.

Strider’s 3.02 Fielding Independent Pitching over those 17 starts is third-best among qualified MLB starters during that span. That means Strider has done well with the things that he can control: walks, strikeouts, and home runs allowed. And batters haven’t been teeing off on Strider. His hard-hit rate during that time (32%) is third-best among MLB starters.

That’s pretty much the story of Strider’s full season. His home run rate is higher than last season, his velocity is a bit down but he’s pitched better than his ERA indicates. That suggests some bad luck on balls in play. That’s not much of a concern for a pitcher who strikes out so many batters. Strider just needs to keep his walks down and keep the ball in the park in October.



Harper was the only Phillies batter to hit Strider hard on Tuesday. Strider retired 11 hitters in a row from the last out of the second inning through the first out of the sixth. Johan Rojas, the No. 9 hitter, broke up the streak with a single. Kyle Schwarber followed with another hit and then Trea Turner reached on a fielder’s choice.

Harper was up next. Strider got him to swing at a fastball near the top of the strike zone. He then tried back-to-back fastballs high and away, but Harper wouldn’t bite. In the first inning, Strider got Harper to hit into a double play with a changeup, a pitch he rarely throws. Strider tried the changeup again and Harper hit a line drive that just cleared the right-field wall.

It was a hard-hit ball but, according to StatCast data, it wouldn’t have been a home run in 14 other MLB ballparks. That was a bit unlucky for Strider, but I liked the unconventional pitch choice. Strider relies heavily on his fastball and slider, so it took some moxie to go after Harper with the changeup.

“It’s not a pitch I would anticipate giving up a homer on,” Strider said. “It’s very frustrating to get beat with my third-best pitch in that situation. It is what it is. They are good hitters. You put Bryce Harper in the box with runners on base, I don’t think your best pitch is safe (for) not getting hit.

“I think you’ve just got to tip your hat sometimes. It probably could have been executed better, if anything.”

D’Arnaud agreed with that assessment. One so-so pitch was the only thing that went wrong for Strider. A sign of growth was his efficiency. He needed just 62 pitches to get through five innings and 91 for seven. Strider lobbied manager Brian Snitker to go out for the eighth but was denied.

Fastball command is what allowed Strider to be efficient, d’Arnaud said:

“We were able to get the early outs, first pitch out, second pitch out and I think that’s going to help him get deeper in games instead of going for swing and miss every single pitch. You might throw 20, 30 pitches an inning if you get a lot of swing and miss, or would you rather throw 10 pitches and get two outs (without strikeouts)?

“It’s a learning process. It’s only his second (full) year in. It will be fun to see where he takes off to.”

The Braves needed a strong outing from Strider to stop the bleeding for their rotation. It hasn’t been only a bad week or two. Braves starters have complied a collective 4.99 ERA since the All-Star break. Only five teams have been worse: the Cardinals, Rockies, Pirates, Nationals and White Sox. All those teams are at or near the bottom of the standings.

Throw out the spot starters, and it still doesn’t look good for the Braves.

Bryce Elder’s 4.40 ERA since the break is seventh worst among qualified NL starters and his 4.59 FIP confirms his struggles (all statistics before Tuesday’s games). Kyle Wright’s results in two starts after his rehab stint (12.86 ERA) were much worse than before it (5.79 ERA over five starts). Charlie Morton (3.99 ERA, 3.99 FIP since the break) has been just OK.

Strider and Fried are the lynchpins for Atlanta’s rotation. Fried has been good since returning from the injured list. Now Strider is back in his groove after quieting the Phillies in back-to-back starts.

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