Spencer Strider strikes out nine as Braves beat Athletics

OAKLAND — Spencer Strider’s ability to consistently overpower hitters allowed him to instantly garner attention around the baseball world. But as the Braves hurler nears the end of his great rookie season, it looks like his mental strength might be his greatest asset.

Strider again showed his resolve while helping the Braves claim a 7-2 win over the A’s at Oakland Coliseum on Wednesday afternoon. The young right-hander labored through a 36-pitch first inning and then proved nearly perfect over the remainder of his six-inning outing.

“I think this is the [start] I’m going to be most proud of so far,” Strider said.

But it was better than the 16-strikeout game Strider produced against the Rockies last week?

“This was way more impressive,” Braves catcher Travis d’Arnaud said. “He had a [long] first inning and had to battle without knowing where his fastball or offspeed pitches were. I want to say that would have been his last hitter had he not gotten that last guy out [in the first inning]. So, for him to get six innings and only give up the two runs he gave up in the first, it shows the kind of heart and fight he has when things aren’t going his way.”

Strider received adequate support from Vaughn Grissom and Dansby Swanson, who both homered as the Braves won their seventh straight game and ensured they will remain no more than a game behind the first-place Mets in the National League East. New York aimed to sweep a doubleheader from the Pirates on Wednesday night.

With 33 hits — including five homers — through his first 26 career games, Grissom has immediately become one of Atlanta’s key forces. His contributions have added to the great homegrown value the Braves have received from Michael Harris II and Strider, who stand as two of the NL’s top Rookie of the Year candidates.

Strider strengthened his case for the award as he recorded nine strikeouts and limited the A’s to two runs over six innings. The 23-year-old pitcher has posted a 2.80 ERA in the 18 starts he has made since transitioning from the bullpen to the rotation. He has seemingly gotten better and stronger as he has progressed through what is just his second professional season since he was drafted out of Clemson University in 2020.

His accomplishments become even more impressive when it’s remembered he had totaled just 94 innings at the professional level before this year. Thirty of those innings were at the Single-A and High-A Minor League levels during the early portion of the 2021 season.

“This is the first time I’ve ever heard of anything like this,” d’Arnaud said. “That’s pretty impressive.”

So, too, was the way Strider responded after he walked three of the six A’s he faced and allowed a Stephen Vogt RBI double within that same span. The Braves had Jackson Stephens warming up in the bullpen with two outs in the first, but the Atlanta bullpen would not be needed until the seventh.

“Those are big moments when they navigate that trouble like that,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “It felt like we were down 6-0 after the first.”

Strider pushed his early struggles to the side and retired 16 of the last 17 batters faced, needing just 67 pitches to complete his final five innings. He had retired 15 straight before Vogt singled with two outs in the sixth.

“I was kind of backing off with each pitch,” Strider said. “You kind of throw the ball and hope, that kind of mindset. You don’t want to overthrow and let things run away from you. But I think you just fall back on your crutch pitch. My crutch pitch is my fastball. If I’m going to get beat, it’s with my fastball.”

The A’s whiffed on 13 of their 29 swings taken against Strider’s fastball, which touched 100.4 mph and averaged 98.1 mph. His velocity and effectiveness have shown no signs of fatigue. Instead, they have indicated this young twilir is primed to continue being a difference maker during his first pennant race.

“We’re very confident as a group right now,” Strider said. “This is what you play for, for this opportunity late in the season. I’m certainly excited to be a part of it.”

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