Braves ace Spencer Strider looks to become even more dominant in 2024

ATLANTA (AP) — Spencer Strider is one of baseball’s most dominant pitchers.

That’s not enough for him.

The Atlanta Braves ace is looking to make things even tougher on anyone who steps up against him in 2024.

Still miffed about the way last season ended, with another loss to the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL Division Series, Strider spent spring training working on a curveball that could make his repertoire nastier than it already is.

“In sort of analyzing the way the season ended last year and the season as a whole, the outcome is that we were not — and myself in particular — we were not as good as we needed to be to complete our ultimate goal of winning the World Series,” Strider said. “You start addressing that by improving where you can. One of the ways I could improve was to try to adopt this curveball.”

In his first full season as a starting pitcher, Strider certainly had plenty of reasons to be proud of himself. He was baseball’s lone 20-game winner, finished fourth in the NL Cy Young voting and broke Hall of Famer John Smoltz’s franchise record for strikeouts in a season by punching out 281 hitters.

But Strider lost both starts in the NL Division Series against the rival Phillies, including the decisive Game 4 in raucous Philadelphia, where he surrendered three runs in 5 2/3 innings — all of them on solo homers.

While his career record in the regular season is a dazzling 37-10, Strider has yet to win in the postseason, also getting roughed up by the Phillies in his lone start of the 2022 NLDS.

“My job as a pitcher is to help us win games, win championships,” he said. “No one is giving you a trophy for winning 162 games. That’s kind of the perspective I have. Because this is a team sport, my job is to contribute to the collective goal of trying to win a team trophy. That’s the World Series.”

The 25-year-old Strider can be downright unhittable at times, possessing a 100-mph fastball augmented by one of the game’s best sliders. But, as the postseason has shown, two great pitches aren’t always enough.

So Strider broke out a sharper-breaking curve in spring training, giving batters something else to think about. The results were stunning.

In 22 2/3 innings over six appearances, he surrendered just two runs on 15 hits, with a whopping 35 strikeouts.

“It’s a pitch that kind of fits my arsenal well,” Strider said, “It’s something that I’ve used before. Picking it up wasn’t that difficult necessarily. That’s the perspective I had on it. How could I get better?”

He wasn’t focused on adding more strikeouts to his already daunting total from 2023, though it certainly appears feasible that he could become just the 20th pitcher in baseball’s modern era to reach 300 Ks in a season.

“I don’t think that was necessarily my justification behind it or my thought process,” Strider said. “It was just adding a tool to my toolbox in a way. If I was able to, I would go out and learn every pitch that’s ever been conceived of and have that at my disposal. But I can’t do that. This is something that fits my strengths and my capabilities, so it made sense to try to incorporate it.”

Manager Brian Snitker was not surprised that Strider — already well known for his intense workout routine, strict dietary regimen and eclectic thought process, not to mention that bushy mustache — decided to work on a new pitch.

“I don’t think he’ll ever be satisfied with what he’s doing,” Snitker said. “He’s one of those guys who’s always gonna be looking to get better, to improve, for an edge. It’s what makes those guys really good.”

Of course, spring games don’t count. That all changes on Thursday, weather permitting, when Strider gets the honor of making the first opening day start of his career in Philadelphia, again facing the team that ended Atlanta’s season far earlier than expected the last two Octobers.

“If spring training outcomes carried over to the regular season,” he said, “we’d have a lot of misplaced confidence.”

Strider is not going to get too carried away with what happens in the first game, though he’s thrilled to get the nod on opening day for the six-time reigning NL East champions, whose impressive rotation also includes Max Fried, Chris Sale and Charlie Morton.

“We all know that what happens on opening day will be forgotten pretty quickly if we’re where we want to be six months from now,” Strider said. “This is a beginning of a slow march toward a goal we’ve had our eyes on all spring.”

___

AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/mlb

Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.