The natural inclination is to ask what Ian Anderson can do for an encore, after he made it to “The Show” last year.
“The Show” itself, though, was so abbreviated that it really is still just getting started for the 22-year-old Shenendehowa graduate, who was an August call-up by the Atlanta Braves and seven weeks later was handed the ball as the starting pitcher in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series.
Anderson soon will have his bags packed for Sarasota County in Florida and is scheduled to report for spring training next Wednesday, with the first workouts for pitchers and catchers on Thursday, Feb. 18.
In less than two months on the big club’s roster, he filled a scrapbook with memories and was given enormous responsibility for a team making a run at the World Series, winning two games in the 2020 postseason before lasting just three innings in the Braves’ 4-3 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS Game 7.
It could be a hard act to follow, but Anderson is technically still a rookie heading into what promises to be his first full MLB season, and is eager to see what 2021 holds as spring training approaches. Despite that glimpse in 2020, he’s headed to Sarasota with the idea that his standing with the Braves as a starter in the rotation isn’t guaranteed.
“Especially in our organization,” Anderson said by phone on Tuesday afternoon. “We have so much talent, and some of them are my best friends in the organization. You can never take your spot for granted. I am excited to show that I can back up what I was able to do last year.”
What he showed was a three-pitch mix that often flummoxed batters, including a changeup that has become his signature pitch and the subject of much analysis during postseason pre-game shows.
Anderson, who was 3-2 last year with a 1.95 earned run average, hasn’t changed much in the off months, but has been trying to fine-tune everything in his repertoire.
“Just working on my pitches, sharpen them up and master them a little bit more,” he said. “As far as my training and weight training, I feel like I’m coming into the season pretty prepared and have been hitting my stride at the right point, not coming out of the gates in March and April guns blaring, and peak more in June, July and August.
“I’ve been tightening up some of my other stuff, the breaking ball, so you have three pitches I can throw at any talent and in any spot in the zone to keep the hitters off balance.”
The third overall pick in the first round by the Braves in the 2016 draft, Anderson has steadily worked his way up through the minors.
Minor league baseball was canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic last season, and Anderson spent much of the shortened 60-game MLB season playing alternate-site ball as one of 60 players the Braves chose to keep active.
That allowed him to build even more confidence in his changeup, a pitch he dabbled with a little bit at Shen and developed to a whole other level as a pro.
“It’s definitely an important pitch,” he said. “I threw one a little bit in high school and probably started throwing it a lot more once I got drafted, in my first full season. Then the next year, that’s when it kind of took over as the better of my two off-speeds.
“I started seeing good results with it, started getting a good feel for it rolling off my hand and seeing the action that I wanted on it. It’s one of those things where you start seeing the results and it evolved into that pitch and I have a lot of confidence with it, which is huge for anything you’re going to go through up there. It’s definitely taken over as a good pitch for me.”
He’ll also bring the experience of that seven-week stretch at the end of the 2020 season into 2021.
The Braves called Anderson up on Aug. 26, and by Oct. 1, he was beating the Cincinnati Reds to clinch the Wild Card Series.
Anderson picked up another win in the Division Series, striking out nine Miami Marlins in 5 2/3 innings.
The Dodgers’ formidable lineup showed signs of getting to Anderson in the NLCS Game 7, but he was able to patch together three innings while giving up two runs in front of a crowd of almost 11,000 that included his parents and twin brother Ben, a pitcher in the Texas Rangers organization.
“It helps, getting a chance to pitch in the postseason and a Game 7, you can take so much out of that,” he said. “My first taste of having a pretty good crowd on hand was pretty nice. Hopefully going forward we can see more of that.
“It was such a good learning experience. That was the biggest thing that our pitching coach, Rick Kranitz, told me when I came out, was ‘It was huge you got us through those innings, and you’re going to learn so much from that and be so much better off for going forward.
“I knew that I was going to try to leave it all out there, since that could’ve been our last game of the season. No point in holding anything back, if we make it to the World Series. You’ve got to find that energy from somewhere else. You go out there knowing you’re going to leave it all out there.”
Last Thursday, the Braves signed Marcell Ozuna, who batted .338 during the short 2020 season and led the NL in home runs (18) and RBIs (56), to a four-year contract worth a reported $64 million.
Atlanta also signed 37-year-old veteran pitcher Charlie Morton, someone from whom Anderson, who turns 23 on May 2, will seek advice.
Some of that could be on how to sustain your stuff and your approach throughout the course of a full season. Anderson would like to be in the thick of it all the way from start to finish this time.
“Getting Marcel back was definitely big for us,” Anderson said. “What he did for the team last year was pretty incredible, and he’s an awesome guy to have around the locker room. We’re stoked to have him back.
“Obviously, we’re in one of, if not the toughest division. We’ve seen what the Mets have done, and the Phillies getting [J.T.] Realmuto back and the Nationals getting healthy again. I think it’s going to be a fun challenge for us. We’ve won the division three years in a row, but nothing’s guaranteed. We’re going to go into the season with that as our main goal, win the division first and try to take care of what comes after that. My guess it’s going to be a battle, though, the way our division is setting up.”