I remember a couple of years ago, my Clemson-fan cousin sent me some highlights of one of their pitchers throwing gas and rocking a sick mustache. “This kid might be pretty good”, he said.
If I had a nickel for every time a hard-throwing young pitcher looked promising, I’d be a wealthy man. I didn’t think twice about it and moved on with my day.
Then late last season, once the Atlanta Braves had clinched their fourth consecutive division title, we brought in some young arms to give the rotation a break before the playoff run.
In the final game of the regular season, the Braves trotted out a hard-throwing righty with a sick mustache. Now wait just a minute.
The Rise of Spencer Strider
I quickly connected the dots and looked him up. Sure enough, it was Spencer Strider — the Clemson Tiger my cousin had shown me years earlier.
Hailing from the Christian Academy of Knoxville, Strider was selected by the Cleveland (then) Indians in the 2017 MLB draft at the age of 18, but chose not to sign and instead enrolled at Clemson. The following summer, he played for the Falmouth Commodores in the Cape Cod Baseball League.
On the first day of Clemson’s spring practice in 2019, Strider faced a major setback — he tore his UCL in warm-ups.
A UCL tear requires Tommy John surgery to be repaired, which has perhaps derailed more baseball careers than any other injury, especially when it happens at a young age. Luckily for the Braves, Strider was determined to do anything possible to get back to his old form.
Spencer Strider and the Plant-Based Diet
When Strider was 19, he was diagnosed with high blood pressure — something rather uncommon for a young athlete. He sought treatment through medication, but wasn’t seeing the improvement he wanted. Plus, he didn’t love being so young and already dependent on medication for daily life.
After Tommy John surgery, Strider decided to make a radical change.
He was willing to try anything, so he switched to a plant-based diet. Immediately, Strider noticed the effects; his blood pressure was at consistent normal levels within two weeks, ditching the medication in the process. He never looked back.
The typical recovery time for Tommy John surgery hovers around a year but can often take two years for athletes to reach their previous form.
Strider did it in 11 months.
He doesn’t cite the plant-based diet as the exclusive factor in his swift recovery, but said that it certainly helps. The diet allowed him to pay close attention to his body, which supplemented his recovery and spurred his growth as a pitcher.
Spencer Strider’s Recovery and What It Means
Alongside his diet, Strider also used the recovery time to focus on the mental aspect of pitching. He worked with Clemson sports psychologist Cory Shaffer, who suggested Strider start journaling his recovery process.
The journaling process started as a means to document his health but turned into something much more important for Strider. He said it allowed him to start scheduling his craft, stay on routine, and keep track of his energy levels.
He cites “reference points” as a way to stay on track and not let subjective feelings distract him from his routine.
I think that the injury was a blessing in disguise for Strider. He always had good stuff, but mastering the mental aspect of the game is what separates the good from the great.
There’s concern that Strider may not be able to throw more than 100 innings for the Braves this year, as it’s his first full season in the majors. It’s pretty typical for young guys to max themselves out and lose velocity over the course of their first full summer.
However, Strider isn’t a normal young guy. The maturity and poise he’s shown suggests that he has what it takes to arrive quickly. Not to mention, he’s absolutely locked in when it comes to his recovery process.
We may very well see Strider move back to the bullpen later in the season.
Just don’t be surprised if he doesn’t.