ATLANTA — Michael Harris II stood at his locker, wearing a red T-shirt emblazoned with Spencer Strider on it, the image of the Braves’ right-hander made up of 16 Ks in honor of his Atlanta-era record strikeout performance last September.
“He’s throwing it nice,” Harris said of his wardrobe choice. “So, why not put on his shirt to give him a little more confidence?”
Not that Strider needs it.
He fanned nine in Thursday’s 7-6 win over the San Diego Padres, building on the 24-year-old’s historically gaudy strikeout numbers to start his career.
“The ball’s doing what I want it to do,” Strider said. “It’s just a matter of continuing to find the mechanical consistency and optimizing how (the ball) is moving. It’s April, so the velo will come, the two-strike execution will come as well, and figuring out when to put the foot on the gas.
“There’s a lot of positives to take away.”
Through 35 career games, Strider has 220 strikeouts. In the Divisional Era (1969-on), that total is good enough for 22nd. But consider that among those 21 players ahead of Strider, all have made at least 34 starts (Strider has 22) and he’s reached that K count in a mere 145 innings. That’s the smallest workload of any player with 220 or more strikeouts by 36 2/3 innings, with the Tampa Bay Rays’ Shane McClanahan fanning 222 in 181 2/3.
Through 35 career games, Spencer Strider has 220 strikeouts. Since 1969, only 22 players have more (topped by Doc Gooden with 302), and remember that includes 11 games out of the bullpen. #Braves pic.twitter.com/9JSVV9PRXg— Cory McCartney (@coryjmccartney) April 7, 2023
Strider, and everyone else, are looking up at Dwight Gooden, with the former New York Mets phenom striking out 302 through his first 35 starts. But the 1984 National League Rookie of the Year and 1985 NL Cy Young winner piled up those Ks in 248 innings, averaging 11 per nine.
After Thursday night, Strider has 13.7 strikeouts per nine.
But despite striking out nine for the second time this season — equaling his total on April 1 against the Washington Nationals — the Padres had their moments in getting to Strider.
With the Braves up 2-0 in the top of the fourth inning, Manny Machado hit a leadoff double, followed by a one-out walk from Jake Cronenworth. Then, Matt Carpenter teed off on an offering at the bottom of the zone, the ball careening off the fencing in front of the Chop House seats in right field for a three-run blast.
It was just the third home run that Strider had allowed in six starts at home since last year’s All-Star break. But Strider took solace in the fact that Carpenter’s blast, like Trent Grisham’s third-inning single, Machado’s double and Ha-Seong Kim’s fifth-inning base hit, came with two strikes.
“That’s the thing with strikeouts,” Strider said, “they take three pitches, minimum. Obviously the home run was hit hard, but beyond that, some pitches that were not as well executed as they could have been and guys got a piece of them.”
“It’s early, that’s something that comes, I think, is figuring out what your intent level needs to be with two strikes to put guys away and execute those pitches.”
His slider was masterful, generating nine whiffs on the 11 swings the Padres attempted on the pitch, but Carpenter, Grisham and Kim all found success against a fastball that averaged 98.6 miles per hour over the 61 he threw Thursday. That’s the second-lowest four-seam average he’s posted since joining the rotation May 30, 2022.
During that rookie season that saw him go 11-5 with a 2.67 ERA and 202 strikeouts in 131 2/3 innings over 20 starts and 31 appearances in all, Strider averaged 98.2 miles per hour on his four-seam. That was exactly where he sat in his first start of this season vs. the Nationals, when he spun six scoreless innings.
But Thursday, his velocity dipped to 94.5 mph on a called strike to Juan Soto over his final inning, but Strider managed to ratchet it back up to 98.3 mph on his final two pitches, ultimately getting Xander Bogaerts to ground into an inning-ending force out.
Strider exited after 101 pitches, allowing three runs on four hits with three walks to go with those nine strikeouts, five of which were of the caught-looking variety.
Spencer Strider, Two more Ks Looking. pic.twitter.com/uc45B4AQnj— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 7, 2023
“I thought Spence was really good,” said manager Brian Snitker.
Dating back to Sept. 1, 2022 — the date of that record-setting outing he had against the Colorado Rockies, the dominance that Harris’ shirt commemorated — he has struck out at least nine in six consecutive regular-season outings.
In franchise history, the only longer run of games with nine or more Ks belongs to Hall of Famer John Smoltz, who did so in eight straight from July 25 to Aug. 29, 1997.
Strider’s next shot at continuing that run is scheduled to come Tuesday vs. the Cincinnati Reds. When he last faced them July 2, he struck out 11.