The Braves were able to sweep their doubleheader on Wednesday against the Tigers to win the series before they head home for a four-game set with the Rockies, but it wasn’t all flowers and rainbows for the National League’s best team.
Spencer Strider took the ball for the Braves in Game 1, hoping to bounce back after the worst start of his career, giving up eight earned runs over four innings. Unfortunately, things didn’t get any better against a Tigers offense that had struggled mightily coming into their series against the Braves. He made it through just five innings, surrendering five earned runs, four of which came on three home runs. It was not what Braves fans were hoping for, and the concern surrounding the second-year star is at an all-time high as we creep closer to the All-Star break.
So why is Strider experiencing his first real bump in the road at the major-league level?
Many people want to point out Strider’s down velocity, but what they fail to mention is Strider’s velocity has been 96-98 all season, down a tick from where he was a year ago as a rookie. However, that hadn’t stopped Strider from leading the league in strikeouts, punching out over 15 batters per nine innings and 40% of the batters he faced overall.
Is hitting 100 MPH on the radar gun a little more impressive? Sure, but Strider has had no problem this season being the most dominant pitcher in baseball while averaging 97 MPH. His fastball remains a unicorn pitch; not just because of the velocity, but also because of the movement. He’s averaging a career-high 19.6 inches of movement on his heater this season, up from 18.1 inches a season ago.
Why Strider is struggling has a lot less to do with his down velocity, but rather his control. He hasn’t been able to rely on his slider for strikes consistently, getting behind in counts and allowing opponents to sit on the fastball. Strider is a two-pitch pitcher, and if one of them isn’t working at its best, he becomes a lot more predictable and easier to hit.
Strider’s velocity is the least of my concerns. Do I hope it rises as the season continues? Absolutely, every pitcher can benefit from a little extra heat on their fastball. However, we’ve also seen him dominate with the same stuff he flashed yesterday when he’s on. The primary issue is his control, but the good news is he has a lot of time to work out the kinks. It’s only June, and Strider is one of the hardest working players on the team; as long as there are no issues as far as health is concerned, he is going to get through this rough patch in time and likely come out the other side an even better pitcher.
Photo: Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire