ST. LOUIS — Instead of worrying about when Spencer Strider might show signs of fatigue, it would seemingly be more enjoyable to just watch the young hurler put the finishing touches on what has been one of the best rookie seasons in Braves history.
Strider again looked fresh and dominant as he helped Atlanta keep rolling with an 11-4 win over the Cardinals on Friday night at Busch Stadium. He didn’t become a starter until the end of May, but within his next two starts, he could own the modern era franchise rookie record for strikeouts in a season.
“He’s been incredible,” catcher and designated hitter William Contreras said. “He throws 100 [mph]. He throws strikes. Catching him is hard. I can’t even imagine taking at-bats against him.”
Contreras tallied a career-high four hits for the Braves, who have gone 15-2 since Aug. 9. Contreras’ contributions aided Strider, as he notched seven strikeouts while allowing one run on six hits and one walk over six innings.
Strider’s 158 strikeouts leaves him 12 shy of the modern era franchise rookie record Julio Teheran set in 2013. Reaching this mark likely won’t satisfy the young pitcher, who has been motivated by his own lofty aspirations and expectations.
“Tonight, I was really bad with two-strike counts, had lengthy at-bats and a couple scenarios that were frustrating,” Strider said. “I would have liked to have gone a little further, but you can’t be that economical all the time.”
Strider struck out five of the first six batters he faced and then again proved he can successfully navigate lineups without blowing everybody away. The 23-year-old has now allowed one earned run or fewer over at least five innings nine times this year. That matches teammate Kyle Wright and sits two behind the total compiled by Atlanta lefty Max Fried.
Wright is tied for the MLB lead in wins (16), and Fried is a top NL Cy Young Award candidate. They both had made nine or more starts before Strider was moved from the bullpen to make his first career start on May 30.
“He just keeps getting better,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He’s holding his velocity through the whole game. His secondary stuff was good again. It’s kind of fun to watch. We had no idea in the beginning just what this kid was capable of.”
To really appreciate what Strider is doing, you must remember that he totaled 63 innings at Clemson University and then completed 94 more as he rose from Single-A to the Majors during his first professional season last year. The Braves knew they had something special in the right-hander who has consistently produced triple-digit radar readings with his fastball.
But there was uncertainty about how long Strider could be productive as a starter. Instead of targeting an endpoint or setting an innings limit, the Braves decided to let him go as long as he could. They have benefited from this decision and hope to continue doing so into the postseason.
Strider has produced a 2.87 ERA over the 106 2/3 innings he has totaled over 27 appearances this year. The Braves began using him as a starter hoping he could at least temporarily stabilize the back end of their rotation. While posting a 3.06 ERA in 16 starts, he has become one of the most valuable pieces for a team attempting to win a second straight World Series title.
More importantly, there haven’t been any signs of fatigue. Strider’s fastball touched 100.3 mph and averaged 98.4 mph (0.2 higher than his season average) during Friday’s 102-pitch outing. His secondary pitches have also improved. The Cardinals whiffed with four of 10 swings against his slider and two of four swings against his changeup.
Instead of fading as the season’s final full month approaches, Strider seems to be getting even better. He has allowed three runs over the 17 innings he has totaled while making his past three starts against the Mets, Astros and Cardinals, three current division leaders.
“I’ve never seen him panic and I haven’t seen the game speed up on him that much,” Snitker said. “In big spots, he’s able to keep his composure and keep pitching.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism