Braves ace Max Fried likely will go on injured list with left hamstring strain

WASHINGTON — Armed with great stuff and a low pitch count, Max Fried seemed destined for a terrific opening-day start.

Then came a nightmare sight for the Braves.

In the bottom of the fourth inning, Fried departed his opening-day start with athletic trainer George Poulis. He strained his hamstring while running to cover first base.

Braves manager Brian Snitker said Fried would “more than likely” go on the injured list. At the very least, he will miss one start. But the Braves don’t have to put him on the injured list at this moment.

“I haven’t heard anything as far as IL or not,” Fried said after the game. “Obviously, it’s still pretty fresh. I felt it running over and covering first base. Kind of at that point, (athletic trainer) George (Poulis) said that we didn’t want to take any chances, especially with the weather being a little chillier today. Right now, it’s just very much just see how I feel in the coming days.”

Fried didn’t look injured while running to first. But after the play, the broadcast cameras caught him grabbing his left hamstring. When he returned to the mound, Poulis and Snitker went to check on him.

The left-hander threw a warm-up pitch, then walked off the field and into the dugout.

“When he threw the pitch, he was like, ‘No, this is not good,’” Snitker said. “We had some long innings offensively, it’s cold. Just one of them freak things, a little bit.”

Added Fried: “At this point, it’s kind of just more if I have the opportunity to see how it feels, just try the warm-up pitch to see if it is. But if there was any discomfort or anything, I was going to shut down. But I didn’t want to come out of that game without even trying.”

Fried said this injury feels comparable to other minor hamstring ailments he has experienced, such as one in 2021. “Nothing crazy,” Fried said. “Nothing bad or nothing like that.” Fried said the difference in climate between Florida (hot and humid) and Washington (45 degrees at first pitch Thursday) could’ve caused him to be a bit tighter and might have become a factor in his hamstring injury.

Fried allowed one run over 3-1/3 innings at the time of his exit. He gave up four hits, but two came on balls that Braves players lost in the sun. Fried threw 43 pitches, 28 for strikes.

“I felt great. I felt like I had a really good rhythm, got in the dugout pretty quick. Felt like it could’ve been a good one, been able to get deep into a game, but unfortunately things happen.

If Fried goes on the 15-day injured list, he would miss at least two starts. If the Braves put him on the IL on Friday, Fried wouldn’t be eligible to return until April 15.

The Braves could recall Ian Anderson or Bryce Elder. Because neither Anderson nor Elder would be filling the spot of an injured player, neither would need to spend the required 15 days in the minors for pitchers who are optioned. (Remember, Jared Shuster and Dylan Dodd already are making starts in the first turn through the rotation because the Braves held Kyle Wright to stretch him out more.)

The Braves, however, likely would need to start Anderson or Elder twice if they went that route. If he stayed on schedule, Fried would have been scheduled to start April 5 and then again April 10. Wright is on the 15-day injured list and isn’t eligible to be activated until April 11, so the Braves can’t use him for that second start Fried would miss.

“Really comfortable, really confident,” Travis d’Arnaud said of his feelings about the Braves’ pitching depth. “We trust in not only them, but every pitcher that we got in the organization.”

After Fried exited, Lucas Luetge, completely cold on a chilly day, quickly warmed and took over. From there, Luetge became one of five Braves relievers who held the Nationals to a run over the final 5-2/3 innings.

“Those guys coming in in that situation is extremely tough, and they did an incredible job,” Fried said.

Fried’s injury represents the Braves’ first taste of adversity in this regular season.

It came around an hour after they began their first of 162 games.

“I mean, this happens,” Snitker said. “You don’t want to see it happen. But if it’s going to, I mean, I’d rather earlier than later, that’s for sure. We’ll just make sure we get him right.”