ATLANTA — After winning the World Series last year after only producing a winning record in August, the Braves won’t be too concerned about early season results. But as they opened the 2022 season by splitting a four-game run against the Reds, they got a better idea of how those next two weeks might unfold.
After bouncing back from Thursday’s opening day loss with a pair of wins, the Braves saw Ian Anderson fight back in Sunday afternoon’s 6-3 loss at Truist Park. Matt Olson’s first home run for Atlanta wasn’t enough to ruin the impressive debut of reported Cincinnati prospect Hunter Greene. But it capped off a memorable first streak for the Braves’ new first baseman.
“I think there were a lot of positives to build on,” manager Brian Snitker said. “There are a lot of guys that we didn’t really know and are getting to know a lot more about. I think there were a lot of good things that happened this weekend.
Here are some things Braves fans may have loved and hated about the first series.
It didn’t take long for Olson to prove he wouldn’t mind the pressure of replacing Freddie Freeman and playing for his hometown team. The suburban Atlanta native went 8 for 14 with two doubles and a homer in his first four games. In the process, he showed why the Braves were willing to part ways with some of the top prospects to acquire him in a trade with the A’s.
Olson’s first home run was a fifth-inning solo shot off Greene’s 101 mph fastball. The liner over the center field wall was just the third homer hit by a Braves player against a 100-mph or higher pitch from 2008, according to Statcast. The others were hit by Eddie Rosario against Dodgers’ Brusdar Graterol on September 1, 2021 and Chipper Jones against Joel Zumaya on June 26, 2010.
“It feels good,” Olson said. “You want to have good sticks and barrel stuff. Doing it against high speed is always a good sign.
Five of the 11 balls put into play by Olson had exit speeds of 105 mph or more. Really, the only thing he might want to erase from his opening weekend could have been being thrown at home plate twice on Saturday.
“If someone wrote in the Oakland scouting report that I was fast, they were lying,” Olson said.
While Anderson fired five walks and drove in five runs on three hits in just 2 2/3 innings, his four-seam fastball averaged just 93.2 mph. The average dropped to 92.9 mph with the 10 fastballs he threw in the third inning. Anderson averaged 94.6 mph with this pitch last year and 94.1 mph in 2020.
“I feel like I’m still trying to put everything together and get my delivery ready,” Anderson said.
Maybe Anderson’s bike drop is just an early-season product of a short spring training. But that’s not an encouraging development for a guy who relies heavily on his change. There was a difference of just 5.7 mph between the average bike of his fastball (93.2) and his change (87.6). There was closer to a 7-8 mph difference the previous two years. But the 23-year-old pitcher thinks his biggest need is to stay patient while regaining more consistent mastery of the fastball and changeover.
“You have to establish the fastball and you have to establish other pitches,” Anderson said. “I don’t think I’ve done a very good job of that. This is somewhat what led to the lack of [the Reds chasing the changeup].”
Charlie Morton looked like an ace in his first start since breaking his leg and Kyle Wright looked like a whole new man in Saturday’s strong start. Yeah, Anderson and Max Fried stumbled. But each of the eight shots Fried allowed Thursday was a single and four of them had an exit speed of 69.2 mph or less. If Wright builds on his success and Anderson begins to improve over the next two weeks, the champions should have no reason to worry about their rotation.
Rosario and Ozzie Albies will share the primary duties until Ronald Acuña Jr. returns in May. They combined to go 2 for 26 with five walks during that first series. Dansby Swanson struck out eight of his first 12 at bats.
It might be time to stop thinking about Spencer Strider as a starter, a role that would have only really allowed him to develop secondary pitches. Strider looked set to be a main setup man as he knocked out five of the six batters he faced in two perfect innings on Opening Day.
Strider averaged 99.3 mph with 18 fastballs and the Reds felt seven of 11 swings against that fastball. The young pitcher went from Low-A ball to the Majors in his only full professional season. He now looks set to be the right-handed asset the Braves need in a bullpen filled with a trio of left-handed setup men – Will Smith, Tyler Matzek and AJ Minter.