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Spencer Strider strikes out nine vs. Phillies

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“I want to beat everybody,” Strider said. “I dislike every opponent equally. No offense to them, but that’s how you’ve got to play the game. If you’re not wearing my jersey, then we’re fighting for food.”  

That same aggressive approach has set Strider apart during his first 13 months as a big league starter, and it was on display as he guided the Braves to a 4-2 win over the Phillies on Tuesday night at Citizens Bank Park. He helped Atlanta increase its win streak to seven, flirted with some triple-digit radar readings and had fun with his nasty slider. 

“For me, it was the command much more than the velocity,” Braves catcher Travis d’Arnaud said. “I think him having the confidence in the command enabled him to let loose. That’s when you saw the higher-velocity heaters come out.”

Strider exceeded 99 mph with two fastballs, and his 97.5-mph fastball average matched his second-highest mark of the season. He also induced a whiff with 13 of the 20 swings taken against his slider. 

But really all that mattered was that Strider limited a red-hot Phillies team to one run over six innings, despite allowing eight hits. His effort was rewarded by a two-run seventh that was sandwiched between solo homers hit by Austin Riley in the sixth and Matt Olson in the eighth.

Even with the series-opening loss, the Phillies still share MLB’s second-highest win total (13) in June. But within this month, they have lost 1 1/2 games in the standings to the Braves, who are 14-3 since the end of May. Atlanta has a 5 1/2-game lead over the second-place Marlins and a nine-game lead over the Phillies in the National League East.

“It’s nice to play somewhere where people are engaged and the other team is good,” Strider said. “I kind of like facing a familiar opponent. I think it is a challenge. It forces me to lock into my strengths and to keep things simple. I think that’s what I needed.”

Strider may have also needed the message he received from his wife, who basically told him to stop listening to everybody who was telling him things. There really wasn’t a need to panic. Although he allowed the Mets to score eight runs over four innings on June 8 and gave up three homers in five innings against the Tigers on June 14, even the greats are going to experience clunkers from time to time.

“I think that was the first little rut he’s had as a professional baseball player,” d’Arnaud said. “So to see him come out of it against a great offense is really encouraging.”

This was a very familiar result for Strider, who allowed just one run while lasting at least six innings in each of his three regular-season starts against the Phillies last year. He tallied a double-digit strikeout total in the final two outings. He also limited them to two runs over six innings this year while producing a season-high average fastball velocity (97.6) on May 28 in Atlanta. 

In between last year’s starts and this year’s only previous encounter, Strider allowed the Phillies to score five runs over 2 1/3 innings in Game 3 of the ’22 NLDS. He was perfect through two innings and fell apart in the third, likely because he had thrown off a mound just twice since straining an oblique muscle three weeks earlier. The Phillies played highlights of that game before Strider took the mound Tuesday. 

“Last year is last year, with the good and the bad,” Strider said. “I don’t really pay too much attention to what’s on the scoreboard.”

But it was certainly encouraging to see Strider’s high-velocity readings on the scoreboard. He threw 22 pitches at 98 mph or faster. That was commonplace last year. But that’s his second-highest total this year, trailing only the 26 he totaled against the Phillies on May 28. Maybe he does get a little more jazzed for the Philadelphia matchups. 

But seriously, this was encouraging given he had totaled just 10 such pitches over his previous three starts. He had nine against the D-backs on June 3, one against the Mets on June 8 and zero against the Tigers on June 14.  

Given what Strider showed against the Phillies, it looks like he is past that inevitable midseason case of fatigue.  

“Nobody in here had any doubts about Spencer Strider,” Olson said.

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