Spencer Strider’s injury will put Braves’ pitching depth to the test

MLB: JUL 29 Brewers at Braves

The Braves are off to a great start, sitting with a 6-2 record and coming off a sweep of the reigning National League champions.

Atlanta took Arizona down in comeback fashion in the first two contests, thanks to an extra-innings walk-off from Travis d’Arnaud in the first and overcoming a six-run deficit in the second.

It’s a hell of a start for a team that has a World Series or bust mentality, but it hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows for Braves Country. In the season-opening series against the Phillies, we saw Sean Murphy go down with an oblique injury that will sideline him for the foreseeable future.

However, against the Diamondbacks, we saw an even bigger piece of the team go down. Spencer Strider felt some elbow discomfort and an MRI later revealed UCL damage, which generally means Tommy John surgery. For now, the Braves ace is on the 15-day IL as he undergoes further testing.

The best-case scenario is that Strider avoided serious injury and will just sit on the IL until he’s fully healed. It would be naive not to think about the worst-case scenario, though, which would be a torn UCL and subsequent surgery that would keep him out of the entire 2024 campaign.

The potential injury will put Atlanta’s pitching depth to the test. Alex Anthopoulos bolstered the rotation with Chris Sale and Reynaldo Lopez this offseason, both of whom have impressed early in their Braves’ tenure. The rotation will need them to keep it up, but they’ll need the arms in Gwinnett too.

Allen Winans received the initial call-up from Triple-A. He’s nothing to write home about, but he enjoyed a decent 2023 campaign, accruing 0.5 fWAR in just 32.1 innings of work. He’s more than fine as a placeholder. Most of the hype surrounds A.J. Smith-Shawver and Hurston Waldrep, though.

The latter actually made his season debut over the weekend, and it went very poorly. The 2023 first-round pick allowed seven runs on 11 hits and a walk over 2.1 innings but did rack up four strikeouts still. The stuff is there, but I wouldn’t expect to see him in Atlanta soon.

Smith-Shawver didn’t have much more success in his lone appearance either. The Braves top prospect gave up three runs through 0.2 innings of work, thanks to three walks. It wasn’t great, but the stuff is obviously what everyone raves about. He’s ahead of Waldrep in terms of getting a call-up to the majors.

Bryce Elder is really the organization’s sixth starter, but it just worked out logistically for Winans to get the first nod. Elder has started two games for the Stripers this season and has put together two quality outings, a 2.61 ERA across 10.1 innings of work.

If Spencer Strider is out for an extended period of time, Braves fans should expect Elder to fill the void at first, not Winans, Waldrep, or even Smith-Shawver. That’s not to say we won’t see those young arms in Atlanta this season, though. We should still expect to see both of the organization’s top prospects, but the Braves’ pitching depth is certainly going to be put to the test earlier than we all thought.

David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire

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