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Ian Anderson’s start failed due to Angels’ 5x frame

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ATLANTA. Somewhere in the midst of Ian Anderson allowing five runs in the first inning during a 9-1 loss to the Angels on Sunday afternoon, the Braves got another reason to add a starting pitcher before the August 2 trade deadline.

Atlanta didn’t show many weaknesses, posting their best 35-12 MLB record since early June. But it always seemed like a starter needed to be added to provide insurance in case rookie right-hander Spencer Strider got tired or Anderson continued to struggle.

Anderson brought some optimism before the All-Star break and then partially erased it as he conceded eight hits and seven runs to the Angels in just three innings. The 24-year-old hurler has a 5.31 ERA in 19 starts and has now lasted four opportunities or fewer in four of his last eight starts.

“The whole season has been tough,” Anderson said. “I just don’t perform the way I would like to. It’s probably the worst baseball season of my life.”

Max Fried, Kyle Wright and Charlie Morton give the Braves three reliable starting players. But as the reigning World Series champions gear up to defend their title, it seems the uncertainty around Anderson and Strider is enough to add another starter who will at least serve as insurance for the future.

After draining their farm system to get Matt Olson from the A’s in March, the Braves will probably not be in the market for Luis Castillo or Frankie Montas, who are arguably the top two starters available until August 2. Atlanta also doesn’t need another front-line starter.

Tyler Male of the Reds and Merrill Kelly of the Defensive Players seem like more likely targets for the Braves. The desire to add a starting pitcher is heightened by the fact that teams no longer have the ability to negotiate a pull-out deal after the trade deadline has passed. Thus, August 2 will be the last opportunity for the teams to meet the needs or desires from outside.

Atlanta’s only intriguing domestic option is southpaw Kyle Mueller, who has posted a 2.25 ERA in his last eight starts for Triple-Gwinnett. Mueller hit six walks in 2 2/3 innings during his only major league start this year. But if outside help isn’t available, the Braves may have to decide whether to give Mueller another chance or give him more time to develop continuously.

With some scheduled weekends approaching, the Braves could give Strider some extra rest or possibly miss the start. But they don’t plan to put an inning limit on the top rookie hurler, who is already within 20 innings of the total he hit in his first pro season in 2021.

While the Braves can handle Strider’s workload, it’s not easy to determine how best to deal with Anderson, who has proven himself by producing a 1.26 ERA in his first eight postseason starts.

“I saw what he was capable of,” said manager Brian Snitker. “I trust him very much.

Anderson had six innings, making his last two starts in June against the Dodgers and Phillies. He then allayed the fears by performing effectively in his next three starts, one against the Cardinals and two against the Nationals.

But those fears resurfaced when he hit five in a row, including Taylor Ward’s home run, on Sunday’s first run of five.

Anderson has posted a 6.62 ERA, producing an 18.2-percent strikeout rate and a 12.9-percent walk rate over his last eight starts. He entered that stretch posting a 4.53 ERA while posting 19.6% strikeouts and 10.2% walks in his first 11 starts of the season.

While closer to mediocre in the first two months of the season, Anderson hasn’t been as efficient as he was in 2021, when he posted a 3.58 ERA with 23.2% strikeouts and 9.9% walking. Opponents are 0.355 percent on base against him this year, easily outperforming the 0.300 OBP traded last year.

Anderson entered the All-Star break feeling pleased with the adjustments he made to improve his fastball. But he didn’t get a single whiff with any of the 41 four-seam throws he threw against the Angels. Opponents entered Saturday hitting .318 with an expected .288 batting average against this field. They hit .216 last year to XBA’s .242.

“I know that I am not [a finished] product,” Anderson said. “I have a long way to go.”

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