Spencer Strider cuts a fine figure on the mound, a mustachioed rookie with a 100mph fastball, fearless and aggressive with a flourish, his throws punctuated with a pirouette, often after a batter has finished beating a radiator in the zone typing or sometimes to a cursor in the dirt.
Among all major league relievers, his 37 strikeouts in 24 1/3 innings were the second most in the majors before Thursday, behind the Yankees’ Michael King, who had another strikeout (38) and three more innings started.
And if Strider’s “easy cheese” — a baseball term for a pitcher who makes high speed effortless — is initially surprising coming from someone no more than 6 feet tall with cleats, here’s something. Something else that might surprise you about Strider: He’s vegan. .
He said he’s been on a strict plant-based diet since 2019, his second year at Clemson, when Strider was sidelined while recovering from Tommy John surgery. This was just one of the circumstances that influenced his decision to give up meat. Another was diagnosed with high blood pressure at age 18.
“I had high blood pressure, and I was medicated for it and I felt like as a 21-year-old athlete, I didn’t need to use any meds,” a- he declared. “So I wanted to pursue other methods to reduce that. Within two weeks of starting a plant-based diet, I had normal blood pressure levels without medication and haven’t had any issues since. .
And, he said, he was also inspired to abstain from eating meat, eggs or dairy for environmental reasons. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, almost 90% of global deforestation from 2000 to 2018 was due to agricultural expansion (livestock grazing was responsible for about 40 percent of global forest loss during the same period).
“We grow more food to feed the animals that we ultimately eat than we eat ourselves, and that’s not sustainable,” Strider said. “I can’t solve this problem individually, but at the very least I can do my part to help.”
Many athletes who follow a vegan or vegetarian diet often cite the goal of reducing inflammation as the reason for dietary change.
Strider believes his recovery from Tommy John surgery and pitching demands were helped by his vegan diet.
“I was rehabbing TJ, and I rehabbed in 11 months with no setbacks,” he said. “I don’t think it’s entirely because of a plant-based diet; I mean, there are a lot of things that go into any rebuilding process like this. But yes, since I recovered well and I had no problem, knock on wood. It’s definitely something I plan to continue doing for the rest of my life. »
I can’t argue with his results: Strider, a fourth-round draft pick by the Braves in 2020, exploded into their minor league system in 2021. He started the season at Low-A Augusta and was promoted four times , pitching at every level of the organization in a year and totaling 153 strikeouts in 94 innings before making his major league debut on the final weekend of the season.
He pitched so well in spring training this year that he made the opening day roster, and Strider exceeded all reasonable expectations for a 23-year-old in his second season on the ball. professional.
He has a 2.22 ERA in 11 appearances, and in his last seven games, Strider has posted a 1.17 ERA while racking up 26 strikeouts and just three walks in 15 1/3 innings. .
“He’s been fantastic,” veteran Braves reliever Collin McHugh said. “He does his job every day. Being able to go out there and do what it does doesn’t happen by accident. He’s really polished and composed for a young kid. Him and Ian (Anderson), and (Kyle Wright) and Max (Fried) and some of these guys, they’re mature beyond their years. It’s fun to watch.
Strider’s 98.6 average fastball speed is tied with Cincinnati phenom Hunter Greene for sixth in the majors among pitchers who have thrown at least 250 pitches, ahead of Yankees ace Gerrit Cole (97.6 ) and White Sox closest Liam Hendriks (97.5).
Strider and Jordan Hicks of the Cardinals, used primarily as starters this season, are the only top-10 pitchers in fastball speed who averaged at least 2.1 innings per appearance.
Spencer Strider, 83 mph Slider (sword) and 99 mph Fastball (swinging K), individual lands + overlay pic.twitter.com/WHlaCbHaqf
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 26, 2022
Of all rookie pitchers — starters and relievers — who have faced at least 20 batters this season, Strider’s strikeout rate of 13.68 per nine innings is the highest in the majors. And of the seven major league relievers with at least 30 strikeouts heading into Thursday, Milwaukee’s Strider and Devin Williams were the only ones yet to give up a home run.
Of those seven point guards at bat, Strider’s opponents’ .167 average was the second-lowest, behind Pittsburgh’s David Bednar (.150).
“I mean, every time he throws, I always come back in the dugout and say, ‘That guy is mean,'” Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson said. “He’s so good and he’s so comfortable – when I say he’s comfortable with himself, he’s very confident in who he is. And he does it in such a respectful way, it’s so great to be with someone like that, especially at this age.
“I feel like he soaks up all the right information and goes out and does his thing.”
Soaking in information is also what Strider did before making the decision to go vegan.
“I had a coach at Clemson tell me about it, and then other (Clemson) teammates mentioned some of their friends or relatives or someone – it just came up anecdotally,” a- he declared. “And I’ve looked into it and seen some of the results of people with prediabetes and how it reduces their insulin dependency, and with high blood pressure, arthritis issues, how diet changes can be more effective than drugs in many cases.. And for me it was the right solution.
Strider said high blood pressure ran through his family, including his mother and maternal grandfather, both diagnosed around age 18. He said his mother started taking medication around that age.
“Now she’s actually starting to implement some of my diet changes and it’s helped her control it better,” he said.
“I felt like at my age, if I could avoid taking medication – and at that point it was about to be two to three pills a day – then I was going to pursue (an alternative) It didn’t feel right to be addicted to drugs at 19 years old.
He added: “As athletes, we are so focused on protein. And that’s how I was. And as a result, I was eating way too much fat by proxy and not getting enough carbs, which is really your fuel source. And so I was missing core vitamins and minerals and things that the plant-based diet made up for. It was a quick change and I feel so much better every day.
When asked what he usually eats now, Strider replied, “Well, that’s what’s good about it. (Braves closer to Kenley Jansen) and I was actually bringing it up because he has high blood pressure too. And I said, yes, my favorite foods were steak and pizza. But you can’t eat these things every day. But now it’s a taco with corn, beans, rice, guacamole. I can eat this every day. It’s awesome. Or a big bowl of berries for dessert, or in the morning – you know, with granola and coconut milk yogurt. It’s so wholesome compared to the traditional American breakfast – eggs, bacon, cheese and, you know, cheesy hash browns – Waffle House’s all-star special.
“So yeah, that’s good. It sort of improves the whole issue of variety. Because the food you like, you can eat it every day. So you don’t mind having the same – like, I do the same for breakfast every day.
Which one is?
“A big bowl of berries with granola, coconut milk yogurt and avocado toast,” he said.
And if his vegan staples were sometimes hard to come by in the minor leagues, now they aren’t.
“Now I can make gourmet avocado toast,” he said with a smile.
And again, those results: Of the seven major league relievers with 30+ strikeouts heading into Thursday, only Minnesota’s Jhoan Duran (.75) and the Yankees’ King (1.02) had lower WHIPs ( walks more hits per inning pitched) than Strider (1.03). Only four major league relievers had thrown more pitchers than Strider (405).
Strider consistently hits 100 mph with his fastball, which is complemented by a quality slider and infrequent shifting. He was a starter in college and underage until just before his call-up, and the Braves could bring him back to the starting position this season or in the future, but ultimately it looks like “closer dominant” could be his calling.
For now, manager Brian Snitker likes what he gets from Strider in what has become a multi-sleeve relief role in mostly high-leverage situations. With Luke Jackson recovering from TJ surgery and setup man Tyler Matzek on the injured list with a sore shoulder after struggling early, Strider played a vital role.
“That’s what I visualized,” Snitker said when asked if that was what he had in mind when he decided earlier to keep Strider in the bullpen or move it to rotation. “You’re hoping someone will come and take that opportunity, where we can continue to use him in that role. We always have the option, if we want to, if something happens and we want to start it. But I loves that he’s doing what he’s doing right now. He’s handled everything we’ve given him so far.
In this versatile relief role, Strider was able to impact more plays than he could as a starter.
“I like being able to use it more,” Snitker said. “We have to be careful too – I mean it’s May, and August, September, October, I want him to be up. But I think we’ve done a good job of spacing out (his appearances). He didn’t have a back-to-back effort, which we’ll probably be postponing for a while.
Strider is ready for anything and believes his vegan diet is part of the reason for his success.
(Photo: Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)