Braves’ Spencer Strider has season-ending elbow surgery: How does Atlanta’s rotation adjust?

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Braves’ Spencer Strider has season-ending elbow surgery: How does Atlanta’s rotation adjust?

Atlanta Braves right-hander Spencer Strider will miss the rest of the season after having surgery Friday to repair the damaged ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. But the type of procedure he had, internal brace surgery, means Strider could return sooner than if he had Tommy John surgery.

Recovery from internal brace surgery is typically about 12 months for pitchers, compared to 14-16 months for most who have Tommy John surgery. Also, that 14-16 month timeline is usually on the longer end for pitchers returning from a second Tommy John surgery. Strider had Tommy John surgery in 2019 when he was at Clemson.

Barring any setbacks, the hope is that Strider could return at or near the beginning of the 2025 season. The Braves are not stating any timelines for his return, other than to say he’ll miss the rest of the 2024 season.

The internal brace procedure is relatively new, and Dr. Keith Meister, who did Strider’s surgery, is one of the leading specialists in that area. Some major-league pitchers are not good candidates for internal brace surgery, depending on the extent of UCL damage and the patient.

Strider, 25, would likely have been out until at least the middle of the 2025 season if he had Tommy John surgery instead of the internal brace. In some cases, the less-invasive internal brace procedure has become preferable to a second Tommy John surgery for pitchers, in terms of their long-term pitching and general arm health many years down the line.



What Tommy John surgery looks like today: Revision surgeries, internal brace procedures

Losing Strider, the MLB leader in both wins and strikeouts in 2023, is a huge blow to the Braves. They anticipated he would require season-ending surgery after a team doctor examined an MRI of Strider’s elbow one week ago, the day after he struggled in his April 5 start against the Arizona Diamondbacks and complained of elbow pain after leaving the game.

The team has not specified the extent of the UCL damage, but internal brace procedures are more common with patients who have partial rather than full ligament tears. Boston Red Sox pitcher Lucas Giolito opted for internal brace surgery in March after having Tommy John surgery in 2012.

In any event, Strider is out for the season, and the Braves will use multiple pitchers to fill his spot in the rotation, unless and until one of the pitchers outperforms the others and wins the job. The Braves like their depth, including Bryce Elder, a 2023 All-Star in his first full season before fading badly in the second half of the year.

Others expected to make one or more starts in a revolving fifth spot, for now, include Allan Winans who gave up six earned runs in the first three innings of his season debut Thursday, and Darius Vines, who was recalled from Triple A on Friday after Winans was optioned following his start.

Unless Vines is needed in long relief in the next two days, he’s likely to make the next start in what would’ve been Strider’s turn Tuesday against the Houston Astros.

Others who figure in the mix include left-hander Dylan Dodd, top prospects AJ Smith-Shawver and Hurston Waldrep, and Huascar Ynoa, who missed all of the 2023 season recovering from Tommy John surgery. The most accomplished of the eventual rotation candidates is Ian Anderson, who’s expected back around midseason after recovering from Tommy John surgery in April 2023.



Braves’ rotation looks shaky but must move forward without Spencer Strider

With Strider out, each of the other four in the Braves’ rotation effectively moved up one spot, with Max Fried becoming the No. 1 starter, offseason trade addition Chris Sale moving up to No. 2, and Charlie Morton and early season standout Reynaldo López, another offseason addition via free agency, moving from the fifth spot to No. 4.

The Braves could look outside the organization for another accomplished starting pitcher, if necessary. But they will first see how their internal candidates perform. For now, the six-time defending National League East champions and first-place Braves believe their high-powered offense and deep bullpen will help ensure the team continues to win at a high rate.

Besides, it’s too early in the season to pursue a trade for an established major-league pitcher, since teams aren’t inclined to give up good ones so early — especially in an era when the expanded postseason format gives more teams hope and makes it harder for teams to justify to their fans effectively giving up on the season by trading away a good starting pitcher.

Regardless of who fills the role for the rest of the season, it will be a drop off from Strider, arguably the most dominant young pitcher in the major leagues. A fourth-round draft pick in 2020, he reached the majors after only 22 minor league games, and led MLB in strikeouts and strikeout rate over his first two full seasons in 2022-2023, going 32-10 with a 3.47 ERA in 67 games including 54 starts, with a stunning 495 strikeouts in 329 2/3 innings.

Strider had 12 strikeouts in nine innings over two starts this season and was only five strikeouts away from becoming the fastest pitcher to 500 career strikeouts in MLB history among those who were primarily starting pitchers.

The NL Rookie of the Year runner-up in 2022, Strider signed a six-year, $75 million contract extension before the 2022 postseason, easily the longest and most lucrative contract that the Braves had given to such a young pitcher and the first contract of that type general manager and president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos had given in his career to a pitcher with only one year of MLB service time.

But, as Anthopoulos said, he’d never had a young pitcher with a combination of such enormous talent, upside potential, work ethic and mental capacity as Strider.

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(Photo: Bill Streicher / USA Today)