Spencer Strider makes his 2023 debut when the Atlanta Braves visit the Washington Nationals on Saturday.
One of the breakout rookies of 2022, Strider joined the Braves rotation in May and the right-hander went 11-5 with a 2.67 ERA. He struck out 202 hitters in 131 2/3 innings and was second with13.8 strikeouts per nine innings among starters with 130 innings pitched.
Strider was placed on the injured list in September with a strained oblique. He returned for the postseason but lasted just 2 1/3 innings in a 9-1 loss to the Phillies in Game 3 of the National League Division Series.
He signed a six-year, $75-million contract extension and finished second to teammate Michael Harris II in National League Rookie of the Year voting.
"My goal is always to outperform any expectations," Strider said of the contract. "There's nobody that has higher aspirations or expectations for performance than myself. And so, in that way, I don't feel any pressure. The expectation is that I outperform any contract I ever sign."
The Braves will be counting on that, especially after ace Max Fried departed the season-opening 7-2 road win against the Nationals after he injured his left hamstring racing to cover first base in the bottom of the fourth inning.
"(He) strained his hamstring," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "It's more than likely going to be an (injured-list stint)."
Travis d'Arnaud had four hits with two runs and two RBIs as the Braves broke open a close game late.
The 24-year-old Strider allowed two hits and a walk over four scoreless innings while striking out four in his final spring training tune-up. He went 1-1 with a 5.54 ERA in three appearances (two starts) against Washington last season.
The Nationals' problems were exposed in the first game of what could be a long season.
Without a deep lineup, Washington must get solid pitching and defense. That didn't happen on Thursday as starter Patrick Corbin allowed four runs (two earned) on seven hits and three walks while striking out three in three-plus innings. Shortstop CJ Abrams made three errors, one on a potential double-play grounder that would have short-circuited a Braves rally.
"I talked to CJ after the double play should have happened," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. "He didn't see the ball off the bat. But I told him, 'Hey, we play day games here. Those are plays that we need to make.'"
At the plate, the Nationals put their fair share of runners on base but went 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position.
"It's a little difficult," the Nationals' Joey Meneses said. "Sometimes as hitters, we just jump out early and take swings we don't want to. We've just got to remain focused and stay within our strike zone and look for a particular pitch and just be more patient."
The Nationals will turn to one of their young arms on Saturday as 25-year-old Josiah Gray gets the start. Obtained in the trade that sent Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to the Dodgers in 2021, Gray went 7-12 with a 5.02 ERA in his first full season last year while allowing a league-leading 38 home runs.
Spring training was promising as Gray pitched to a 0.55 ERA over 16 1/3 innings and did not allow a homer. He went 1-0 with a 0.82 ERA in two starts versus Atlanta in 2022.
--Field Level Media