ATLANTA — Ian Anderson’s successful crash course introduction to the Major League scene concluded with him starting Game 7 of the National League Championship Series. The Braves right-hander immediately enriched Atlanta’s rotation during his Major League debut on Aug. 26 and then spent the next two months enhancing optimism about
Anderson is spending this week participating in the 2021 MLB Rookie Program. He has used the offseason to further appreciate his first big league season, which was highlighted by him not allowing a run over 15 2/3 innings in his first three postseason starts.
MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo recently spoke to Anderson about this past season and the anticipation of joining a Braves rotation that has added veterans Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly during the offseason.
MLB.com: How hard was it to make the jump from working out at the alternate training site to introducing yourself to the Majors in the heart of a pennant race?
Anderson: It was definitely tough. I had a great group of guys who accepted me and made things a lot easier for me. We had great competition down at the alternate site. But yeah, it made it a little tough not being in game shape, so to speak. Our coaches down at the alternate site did a great job to keep us in the right mindset. Once I got to the (Majors), it was trying to provide some stability to the pitching staff and taking it just game-by-game and inning-by-inning.
MLB.com: Have you looked back and taken time to appreciate how successful your first season was with a team that finished a win from the World Series?
Anderson: When you’re in it, it’s hard to truly reflect on it. During the first couple weeks of the offseason, I definitely had a chance to look back on it. It was such a special group. I think the COVID season provided a cool opportunity for the guys to spend a lot more time together than I think would have usually been the case. It wasn’t the greatest situation, but it allowed the team to get super close. It was tough the way it ended. But we all had a blast and things are definitely looking up for this team.
MLB.com: What did you do with your down time during the unique season?
Anderson: I definitely played a lot of video games and watched a lot of movies. You do a lot of that in the Minors on bus trips. Now, you’re just doing it in your hotel room. There was definitely a lot of time to kill, just with the situation. But it was an amazing first experience. I’m looking to build off that coming into this year.
MLB.com: After assessing your season, what did you determine you needed to focus on this winter?
Anderson: I think a lot of it comes down to knowing how to use your stuff. Most young guys come into the league because they have the stuff. You kind of have to have a great understanding of how to use it against certain guys and what your plan is before you tinker it from guy to guy. That was one thing I felt I got a better understanding of at the alternate site and then as the season went on, at the Major League level. There’s so much information being thrown at you nowadays. It’s all awesome stuff. But if you don’t know how to use it based off of your stuff, it can get super overwhelming.
I had to figure out how to use the changeup off the high fastball and when to mix in the breaking ball. Those are things I incorporated and will have to continue to work on, and I have this offseason.
MLB.com: Why do you believe your changeup became such a valuable part of your repertoire this year, especially during the postseason?
Anderson: It definitely turned into my out pitch. It’s one of those things with all the new information, you see how to trick guys with the fastball-changeup combo and start to understand why (those pitches) work so well together. I had seen some good results with it in the Minors the past few years. That gave me a ton of confidence throwing it. But until you’re presented with the information of why that pitch is so effective with your fastball. … I think that changed my outlook on it at little bit. I think it made me realize that was probably my second-best pitch or you could say my first-best pitch with the number of big outs I was able to get with it.
MLB.com: Who provided the most valuable guidance and assistance last year?
Anderson: We all wish (Mike) Soroka could have been there. He’s a guy I’ve leaned on in the past, just to pick his brain. Max Fried and I became close this year. He had a tremendous season and was the rock of the rotation all year. We pitch pretty much polar oppositely. But it was good to hear his mindset on things and to see how he’s taken ownership of scouting reports. It was definitely cool to hear him talk about that.
MLB.com: What will it be like having Soroka back this year?
Anderson: We’re super excited to have him back. I know he’s kicking at it to get back out there. What he’s been able to do in a short period is pretty special. What he was able to do in (2019) was dominant. Between him, Max, Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly, things are looking good for the rotation. It’s definitely exciting to come into spring and have a chance to be in there with those guys.
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.