ATLANTA – Brian Snitker watched Ian Anderson dominate Houston for five no-hit innings.
The Braves manager saw too many flaws to trust the rookie right-hander a third time through the Astros’ order.
Despite a troublingly short-handed pitching staff that could use as much length as possible from its starters, Snitker pulled Anderson with a 1-0 lead after five innings of Friday night's Game 3 of the World Series.
The no-hitter didn't hold, but the Braves' lead did — a 2-0, two-hit victory put them ahead in the Series, two games to one.
Still, Snitker's hook of his red-hot rookie was a head scratcher for some.
Why pull a starter amid a no-hitter? Why put more strain on a bullpen which must carry the load in Games 4 and 5?
Even Anderson had initial doubts. His first response to Snitker:
“Are you sure?”
Following the game, Anderson said he understood.
“You feel a little bit of ‘I have more to give,’ but you understand and move forward,” Anderson said. “... I think the way the playoffs have been played and managed, you can't fault Snit' for making that move.”
A closer look at Anderson's pitching line provides some answers. Of his 76 pitches, only 39 — barely half — were strikes. He issued three walks and hit a batter, stranding two baserunners in the fourth and one in the first.
Snitker said he was concerned Anderson “was throwing a lot of pitches in the top half of that lineup.” If he remained in the game for the sixth, Anderson would have faced the first three hitters in the Astros lineup for a third time, including leadoff hitter Jose Altuve.
Snitker said he wasn't worried about a no-hitter being pulled from Anderson, who already had thrown too many pitches to be a candidate for a complete game.
“He wasn’t going to pitch a nine-inning no-hitter,” Snitker said.
Snitker acknowledged his strategy on such decisions has evolved as starting pitchers aren't asked to finish as many games. He said he left himself open for second-guessing if the bullpen had not held the lead.
“I don’t know. It could have backfired, I guess," Snitker said. “I just thought at that point in time, in a game of this magnitude and all, that he had done his job. And we had a bullpen that all the guys we use had two days off, and they were only going to pitch an inning apiece, and that made them available for the next two games if it went south.”
Anderson finished strong, retiring the Astros in order in the fifth. When he returned to the dugout, he received handshakes from his teammates and coaches.
Houston third baseman Alex Bregman said he didn't feel relief to see Anderson leave the game.
“They have a really good pitching staff all the way around,” Bregman said. “So no matter who’s coming in, you’ve got to stay focused and locked in.”
Anderson's biggest pitch count this season was 110 pitches, but like other hurlers, he's at the end of a season in which his work load has skyrocketed. He threw 51 innings between the pandemic-shortened 2020 regular season and ensuing postseason. Friday's output pushed his 2021 total 145 1/3 innings.
The Braves are expected to rely entirely on their bullpen for the next games. Atlanta entered the Series expecting to have one bullpen game. Then Game 1 starter Charlie Morton broke his right leg in the Braves' 6-2 win.
Morton had been scheduled to start Game 5. Instead it will be another bullpen game as Morton had surgery on the leg and won't return for the World Series.
“Night shift's ready,” reliever Tyler Matzek said.
Anderson said he and left-hander Max Fried are motivated to pitch deep into games and take pressure off the bullpen.
“You want to get out there and give your team innings,” Anderson said.
Left-hander Tucker Davidson was summoned from the Braves' taxi squad at Triple-A Gwinnett to replace Morton on the roster. Davidson could start one of the next two games, but he is an unproven starter, especially on such a big stage, after pitching in only five games in the majors.
Snitker said he hasn't decided who will start Game 4 on Saturday night but said “it'll be an opener."
By comparison, Anderson made his eighth postseason start Friday night. He entered with a 3-0 postseason record and strong 1.47 ERA. The pitcher from upstate New York is also more comfortable than most in cold weather, a skill he showed off with temperatures in the low 50s Friday.
Anderson will certainly be Atlanta's starter if there is a Game 7 in Houston. In such a scenario, his modest pitch count could leave him stronger for the most important game of the Series.
That might end any lingering second-guessing of Snitker's decision, too.
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