Spencer Strider ties career-high in strikeouts in Braves win

CINCINNATI — Braves starting pitcher Spencer Strider had a certain confidence in his step as he strutted to the mound for Saturday’s outing.

Whether it was from the warmth alongside the Ohio River, a quicker pregame warm-up or a combination of the two, one thing was apparent: Strider felt loose.

After giving the Reds a taste of what he can do during a two-inning, six-strikeout relief outing back on Opening Day, Strider followed it up two months later with one of the most complete outings of his young career.

The 23-year-old rookie went six innings in a 4-1 victory over the Reds, improving to 4-2 and striking out 11 along the way. That helped move the Braves within 2 1/2 games of the Mets, who have their slimmest NL East lead since April 30.

Strider was nearly untouchable, posting a whiff rate of 48% — the second highest by a Braves starting pitcher this season. He also struck out two batters in each of the first five innings of his outing on his way to matching his career high in Ks.

Having not allowed a hit through four innings, Strider was reassured of his progression as a big leaguer.

“I’m aware of the [no hits]. It’s hard not to know the line, but I don’t think you let it change anything,” Strider said. “If anything, it just shows you that your stuff is good and it’s working. There’s no reason to do too much. … Stick to what’s been working in the game and just try to go out and keep getting outs as quickly as possible.”

Strider touched triple digits on his fastball 14 times during his outing, including a third-inning pitch that clocked in at 102.4 mph — the fastest strike not put in play by a starter in the pitch tracking era (since 2008).

“I did see the 102 on the day,” Strider admitted with a grin. “That was pretty wild. … that’s fast.”

His 36.2% K rate currently ranks among the top two percent of pitchers across Major League Baseball.

Strider got ahead during his outing with his four-seamer before putting hitters away with his slider, which had a whiff rate of 75%. Both pitches were equally as effective, which led to glowing reviews from his skipper after the game.

“There’s been a lot of guys that [have his velocity]it’s just kind of nice when you have one of them, I’ll tell you that,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said.

Strider’s sole blemish in his outing was a fifth-inning bloop single by Nick Senzel that scored shortstop Matt Reynolds, who had replaced Kyle Farmer after he was hit in the hand with a fastball earlier in the inning.

“It’s awesome. He was free and easy today … really good,” Snitker said. “For a young guy, that’s two really good [starts] in a row.

“He’s shown me [his composure] the whole time. How he has the ability to slow the game down, trust his stuff [and] have confidence in himself.”

Reds manager David Bell may have his own flamethrowing rookie in 22-year-old Hunter Greene, but Strider has caught the eye of his newest opponent. Greene leads all Major League rookie pitchers in strikeouts, with Strider quickly closing the gap.

“Hundred, 101, great breaking ball. [Strider] is really good,” Bell said. “Tough at-bats. I know our hitters expected to do more. We won’t accept anything less, but that’s pretty special stuff.”

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