December 5, 2022

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Strider a bright spot after Ynoa struggles

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ATLANTA – Less than a week into his second professional season, Spencer Strider has already shown he might be able to strengthen two components of the defending World Series champions’ roster.

The good news is the Braves have seemingly found a gem in Strider. The bad news is the reliever’s early entrance into Monday night’s ugly 11-2 loss to the Nationals only enhanced questions and concerns about the back end of Atlanta’s rotation.

As the Braves lost for the third time in five games, they were limited to just four hits, two in the first inning against spot starter Josh Rogers and two in the ninth well after the outcome was decided.

More importantly, they were reminded that Huascar Ynoa continued his decline and forced manager Brian Snitker to eventually use Tuesday’s planned starter, Tucker Davidson, as a reliever in this series opener. Ynoa completed just three innings one day after the Braves got just 2 2/3 innings out of Ian Anderson.

“When you have two short starts in a row, it kind of digs on you a little bit,” Snitker said. “You have to try to survive and get the thing right. Hopefully, whoever we call on for tomorrow can stretch the game a little bit for us.”

Instead of starting Max Fried on regular rest on Tuesday, the Braves will stick with their plan to give him and each of their starters an extra day of rest between starts early in the season. The team will promote two pitchers from Triple-A Gwinnett for Tuesday’s game. One will start and the other will serve as a potential multi-inning reliever. Minor League players who are on the 40-man roster were officially optioned on Opening Day and must stay in the Minors for 10 days unless they replace a player on the injured list. That means the Braves may have to create two 40-man roster spots for Tuesday’s callups. Bryce Elder would appear to be a top candidate to make the start.

But beyond immediate pitching plans, the Braves must decide what to do at the back end of the rotation. Anderson has had enough success, especially in the postseason, to believe he could bounce back from his rough season opener. But it’s much harder to feel as confident about Ynoa, who allowed the Nationals seven hits and five runs over just three innings.

Ynoa posted a 2.23 ERA through his first eight starts last year, despite really only having a fastball and slider. He pitched closer to expectations when he posted a 5.05 ERA in the nine regular-season starts he made after missing three months with the fractured hand.

“I definitely feel I can get back to form,” Ynoa said. “A bad day doesn’t mean a bad season.”

Braves starters have a 6.85 ERA through five games. Charlie Morton and Kyle Wright both produced strong outings, and Fried was a victim of some tough luck on Opening Day.

But these past two games have created reason to question the Braves’ rotation depth.

If counting, the Braves Nos. 5 and 6 starters combined to record 17 outs and allow 10 runs on Monday night. The only bright spot was Strider, who allowed just three hits, recorded three strikeouts and surrendered one run over 3 1/3 innings. Not bad for the kid who began his professional career at Single-A last year.

“Getting out there and getting extended like he did tonight was good for him, and he did a good job,” Snitker said. “He wasn’t real sharp like he was the other night, but he extended the game for us and gave us a chance to come back.”

Strider wasn’t as dominant as he had been on Opening Day, when he recorded five strikeouts over two perfect innings against the Reds. But the 23-year-old certainly made another good impression.

With a big fastball that touched 101 mph on Monday and a couple of decent secondary pitches (a slider and a changeup), Strider has the makings to be a high-leverage relief option right now and a closer in the future. But, if necessary, he might also be used to help the Braves cure their current back-of-the rotation concerns.

“He’s got the right makeup, and he’s got the right focus,” Snitker said. “He’s got a big arm, and he has stuff that plays. The more we get him out there, the better he is going to be.”

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