After a breakout rookie season with the Atlanta Braves, Shenendehowa High School graduate Ian Anderson recently returned to the Capital Region.
The right-handed pitcher from Rexford who led Shenendehowa to a state championship in 2016 saw his season close with a start in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Prior to that series, which saw the Braves lose to eventual World Series champion, Anderson registered wins in the Braves’ first two postseason series.
Including the postseason, Anderson finished with a 5-2 record in his first MLB season, recording 65 strikeouts in 51 innings. In the regular season, Anderson’s ERA was 1.95 and that sunk to 0.96 in the postseason.
The 22-year-old Anderson was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2016 draft, and pitched more than 670 minor-league innings before debuting last summer. On Monday, the Daily Gazette caught up with Anderson. (Answers have been lightly edited for clarity and space.)
QUESTION: You made your MLB debut against the New York Yankees and Gerrit Cole on Aug. 26, and registered a one-hit win. What was that day like for you?
ANSWER: I was super ready the day before and then we got rain, so it was pushed back to the next day. I think that kind of helped in a way, it let me be at the field for a day, kind of settle in, and then the next day take care of business a little bit more. I was still hoping that Cole was going to be pitching so I would get a chance to go up against him. When someone is as good as they are, you want to beat them a little bit more, and I think we kind of had that going into that game against Cole. Ronald Acuna hit that home run early and all the nerves kind of settled a little bit from there.
Q: Your second start came at Fenway Park. What was it like to pitch against the team you grew up rooting for, and in a stadium you visited often as a fan?
A: There is so much history in the ballpark and to be a fan of that team, I’m obviously awfully familiar with it all. Once the game starts, you can’t be a fan of the other team; you’re pitching against you just have to go out there and compete. I wish there could have been fans in the stands to kind of feel that environment, but it was awesome to go up against a team that obviously didn’t have the year that they’re used to, but is still a really good offensive team.
Q: COVID-19 restrictions forced MLB teams to play without fans in the stands, but your parents Bob and Karen did make the trip to Arlington to see you pitch in the NLCS. What did that mean to you?
A: To have them be able to be there in Arlington and be along for the ride was pretty special. I know they had a blast in Arlington.
Q: What, if any keepsakes, do you have from your first MLB season?
A: I was able to keep a couple jerseys, a couple lineup cards and, nowadays, they usually throw [out of play] your first pitch and first strikeout ball. So I have both of those and all that stuff is authenticated through MLB. That was pretty awesome to be able to get that, and now I’m kind of working on ways to get that boxed up and looking pretty nice.
Q: Which teammate helped you most this season?
A: A guy like Max Fried, that was someone that I kind of leaned on. [He said,] “Trust what got you there, be confident and pitch your game at the end of the day. Don’t feel like you have to please anyone. Do what you know you can do to get guys out and what you’ve been doing. These guys are obviously a lot better, but it’s still the same game, and you have to pitch your game at the end of the day and kind of let the results just happen.”
Q: What was it like going from travel on charter buses in the minor leagues to flights across the nation in the MLB?
A: That’s part of what makes once you get there even better. I think that is one common bond that most major leaguers kind of like to talk about and joke around about, and it just makes it that much better — being able to experience what the major leagues is all about.
Q: Your twin brother Ben is a pitcher in the Texas Rangers’ organization. What advice do you have for him on his journey to the majors?
A: I think the biggest thing is keep working until you get that chance because there are plenty of guys, and even guys that I played with at the alternate site, that are plenty talented enough to get there and they know that. Sometimes, you can lose that confidence and when that chance comes you might not be as ready as if you were confident and trusted your ability. There is a lot of work that goes into it, but capitalizing on chances I think is another big part — and being patient, as well, is important.
Q: During each television broadcast, your change-up garnered a lot of attention. How did that develop for you?
A: You don’t see many starters, maybe besides [Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Tyler] Glasnow that pitched with two pitches. It was something I knew I was going to have to develop, and I couldn’t be happier with the way it turned into the pitch that it turned into. It’s definitely a feel pitch. It’s something that you have to keep throwing and keep toying with.
Q: After being eliminated by the Dodgers, did you watch the World Series?
A: I watched a little bit of it. Just part of my nature, being such a big baseball fan. I figured I would watch a few games. It took a few games for me to kind of say, “I’ll check it out.”
Q: You’re back home. What are your plans now?
A: I’ve been home for a week-and-a-half now. Probably take another week or two off, and then kind of jump back into things. I’ve never thrown this long into the year or played this long into the year. It should be fun to figure this all out, and I think that’s part of the enjoyable part of all this — the process and figuring out what you are going to do, year-in and year-out, to adapt.
Q: Do you plan on making any changes to your pitching repertoire before reporting to spring training?
A: I’m not sure yet. I’m sure once I start throwing, I’ll be working on some different things. That’s part of the reason why it was so important for me to get my feet wet, so to speak this year. Being able to figure some things out and come into next year as a similar pitcher, but definitely with a few tweaks here and there to try to keep progressing.
Q: Are the Braves positioned to be a contender again next year?
A: We have such a young and talented team. I think that was another part of why it was such an enjoyable experience, is because we weren’t taking it for granted being there, which I think we easily could have. We know we have a ton of talent. We know the work we’ve put in, but to be in that environment is not something you can come to expect every year. I think the future is bright for the team, but we all had our heads wrapped around everything and that kind of made it that much more enjoyable, as well.