Spencer Strider turned heads again Sunday and his body of work during his rookie season has him amongst elite company. Strider no hit the Phillies Sunday for 5 2/3 innings before Alec Bohm hit a solo home run. He struck out 10 more hitters and became the first rookie in modern-day franchise history to surpass 200 strikeouts. Going a step further, Strider recorded his 200th strikeout in his 130th inning which broke Randy Johnson’s record of 130 2/3 innings that he set back in 2001.
“It’s a good achievement,” Strider said when asked about reaching the 200 strikeout mark. “More interested in winning the games, so I would gladly sacrifice some of the strikeouts for maybe another inning, fewer pitches, not hanging a slider 0-0 to Bohm there in the sixth.”
Strider broke John Smoltz’s Atlanta-era franchise record for strikeouts in a game with 16 against the Rockies earlier this month. Sunday he joined Smoltz as just the fifth Braves pitcher to reach the 200 strikeout mark since 2006. He appears poised to continue to rewrite the franchise’s record books. Not bad for a guy that was originally ear marked to begin the season at Gwinnett, but instead earned his way onto the Opening Day roster as part of the bullpen before moving into the rotation in late May.
“I really didn’t have any expectations, I didn’t know what to expect,” Brian Snitker said of Strider after the game. “I had no expectations whatsoever. We didn’t know if we were going to stretch him out as a starter. We didn’t know if he was going to stay in the bullpen. He kind of profiled as a bullpen guy. I think with the development of the secondary pitches, It’s been an awesome story. You just don’t see that a lot.”
Strider impressed as a multi-inning relief option for the first two months of the season. Since joining the rotation, he has a 2.77 ERA and 165 strikeouts in just 107 1/3 innings.
“I’ve been so impressed with the guy and the work ethic and the consistency and the person and how he goes about this thing,” Snitker added. “How he handles himself on the mound and can slow the game down. The whole package is very impressive.”
While many were concerned about his sharp innings increase over last season, Strider hasn’t missed a beat and appears to be getting stronger as the season unfolds. After Sunday’s start, Strider has allowed just five earned runs and has 44 strikeouts over his last five starts combined (25 innings). His 10 strikeout performance was his sixth in just 20 starts which is second in franchise history behind Smoltz who had 12 such games in 1996 when he won the Cy Young Award.
“I have high expectations for myself,” Strider said. “Everybody pinpoints specific checkpoints that they’re trying to achieve. My goal wasn’t to strike out 200 guys. It was just keep us in games and win games. Pitch deep. Very micro level. Things that I can control or I have more control over. I’ve always expected success for myself, so I’m glad that it’s it’s worked out this well.”
The Braves are no doubt glad too. It is no coincidence that they took off at about the same time that Strider joined the rotation and fellow rookie Michael Harris took over in center field. The duo is headed for a 1-2 finish in the NL Rookie of the Year voting and both have piled up impressive resumes. Strider has gone from a guy with an unclear role to arguably its most important pitcher as the season enters its final stage.
“That’s all I’ve ever wanted,” Strider said of pitching important games in the middle of a division race. “To get here in my first season, I’m extremely lucky to be in this position. I’m very grateful that they had so much faith in me and moved me up here as fast as they did and give me this opportunity. I’m really excited for the next next little stretch here.”