ATLANTA — Somewhere in the midst of Ian Anderson allowing five first-inning runs during a 9-1 loss to the Angels on Sunday afternoon, the Braves gained further reason to add a starting pitcher before the Aug. 2 Trade Deadline.
Atlanta hasn’t shown many weaknesses while posting an MLB-best 35-12 record since the start of June. But there has always seemed to be a need to add a starter to provide insurance in the event that rookie right-hander Spencer Strider fatigues or Anderson continues to struggle.
Anderson created some optimism before the All-Star break and then he erased some of it as he yielded eight hits and seven runs to the Angels over just three innings. The 24-year-old hurler has a 5.31 ERA through 19 starts and he has now lasted four innings or fewer starts in four of his past eight.
“It’s been tough all season,” Anderson said. “I’m just not performing the way I would like to. It’s probably the worst stretch of baseball I’ve had in my life.”
Max Fried, Kyle Wright and Charlie Morton give the Braves three solid frontline starters. But as the reigning World Series champions prepare to defend their title, the uncertainty surrounding Anderson and Strider seems to be enough to add another starter to at least serve as insurance down the stretch.
Having depleted their farm system to gain 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 top two starters available before Aug. 2. Atlanta also doesn’t need another frontline starter.
The Reds’ Tyler Mahle and the D-backs’ Merrill Kelly seem to be more likely targets for the Braves. Enhancing the desire to add a starting pitcher is the fact that teams no longer have the option to make a waiver deal after the Trade Deadline passes. So, Aug. 2 will be the last opportunity for teams to externally satisfy needs or wants.
Atlanta’s only intriguing internal option is left-hander Kyle Muller, who has posted a 2.25 ERA over his past eight starts for Triple-A Gwinnett. Muller issued six walks over 2 2/3 innings during his only big league start this year. But if external help isn’t available, the Braves may need to decide whether to give Muller another chance or to give him more time to develop in uninterrupted fashion.
With some scheduled off-days approaching, the Braves may give Strider some extra rest or possibly skip a start. But they do not plan on placing an innings limit on the top rookie hurler, who is already within 20 innings of the total he collected during his first professional season in 2021.
While the Braves can manage Strider’s workload, it’s not as easy to determine how to best right Anderson, who has proven himself while producing a 1.26 ERA through his first eight career postseason starts.
“I’ve seen what he can do,” manager Brian Snitker said. “I’ve got a lot of faith in him.”
Anderson combined for six innings while making his final two June starts against the Dodgers and Phillies. He then quieted concerns by pitching effectively in his next three starts, one against the Cardinals and two against the Nationals.
But those concerns arose yet again as he allowed five straight one-out hits, including Taylor Ward’s home run, during Sunday’s five-run first.
Anderson has posted a 6.62 ERA while producing an 18.2 percent strikeout rate and 12.9 percent walk rate over his past eight starts. He entered this stretch having posted a 4.53 ERA while producing a 19.6 percent strikeout rate and a 10.2 percent walk starts rate through his first 11 of the season.
Even while Anderson was pitching closer to a mediocre level through the season’s first two months, he wasn’t as effective as he was in 2021, when he produced a 3.58 ERA with a 23.2 percent strikeout rate and a 9.9 percent walk rate. Opponents have tallied a .355 on-base percentage against him this year, which easily trumps the .300 OBP surrendered last year.
Anderson entered the All-Star break feeling good about adjustments he had made to improve his fastball. But he didn’t get a single whiff with any of the 41 four-seamers he threw against the Angels. Opponents entered Saturday hitting .318 with a .288 Expected Batting Average against this pitch. Last year, they hit .216 with a .242 XBA against it.
“I know I’m not [a finished] product,” Anderson said. “I have a long way to go.”