ATLANTA — Somewhere in the middle of Ian Anderson allowing five runs in the first inning in a 9-1 loss to the Angels on Sunday afternoon, the Braves had one more reason to add a starting pitcher before the deadline. exchanges of August 2.
Atlanta hasn’t shown much weakness while posting a 35-12 MLB record since early June. But it always seemed necessary to add a starter to provide insurance in case rookie right-hander Spencer Strider tires or Anderson continues to struggle.
Anderson created some optimism before the All-Star break, then erased some of it by giving the Angels eight hits and seven runs in just three innings. The 24-year-old pitcher has a 5.31 ERA in 19 starts and has now gone four innings or less in four of his last eight starts.
“It’s been tough all season,” Anderson said. “I’m just not performing the way I would like. This is probably the worst baseball game I’ve had in my life. »
Max Fried, Kyle Wright and Charlie Morton give the Braves three solid front-row starters. But as the defending World Series champions prepare to defend their title, the uncertainty surrounding Anderson and Strider appears to be enough to add another starter to at least serve as long-term insurance.
After exhausting their farm system to win Matt Olson from the A’s in March, the Braves likely won’t be in the market for Luis Castillo or Frankie Montas, who are arguably the two best starters available until Aug. 2. Atlanta doesn’t need another front-row starter either.
Tyler Mahle of the Reds and Merrill Kelly of the D-backs seem like more likely targets for the Braves. Reinforcing the desire to add a starting pitcher is the fact that teams no longer have the ability to enter into a waiver agreement after the trade deadline. Thus, August 2 will be the last opportunity for teams to satisfy external needs or wants.
Atlanta’s only intriguing inside option is southpaw Kyle Muller, who has posted a 2.25 ERA in his last eight starts for Triple-A Gwinnett. Muller walked six in 2 2/3 innings in his only league start this year. But if no outside help is available, the Braves may have to decide whether to give Muller another chance or give him more time to develop uninterrupted.
As some scheduled rest days approach, the Braves can give Strider some extra rest or possibly skip a start. But they don’t plan to limit innings to the top rookie pitcher, who is already within 20 innings of the total he pitched in his first professional season in 2021.
While the Braves can handle Strider’s workload, it’s not as easy to figure out how to best turn around Anderson, who has a proven track record of producing a 1.26 ERA in his first eight postseason starts. .
“I’ve seen what he can do,” manager Brian Snitker said. “I have great confidence in him.”
Anderson combined for six innings while making his final two starts in June against the Dodgers and Phillies. He then eased concerns by pitching effectively in his next three starts, one against the Cardinals and two against the Nationals.
But those concerns surfaced again as he allowed five straight hits, including Taylor Ward’s home run, in Sunday’s first five-run hit.
Anderson has posted a 6.62 ERA while producing an 18.2 percent strikeout rate and 12.9 percent walk rate over his last eight starts. He entered that streak after posting a 4.53 ERA while producing a 19.6% strikeout rate and 10.2% walk rate in his first 11 starts of the season.
Even though Anderson was approaching a mediocre level in the first two months of the season, he was not as effective as he was in 2021, when he produced a 3.58 ERA with a rate strikeout of 23.2% and a walk rate of 9.9%. Opponents hit .355 on-base percentage against him this year, which easily trumps the .300 OBP returned last year.
Anderson entered the All-Star break feeling good about the adjustments he had made to improve his fastball. But he didn’t have a puff with any of the 41 four-seams he threw against the Angels. Opponents entered Saturday batting .318 with an expected .288 batting average against this pitch. Last year they hit .216 with a .242 XBA against him.
“I know that I am not [a finished] product,” Anderson said. “I have a long way to go.”