NORTH PORT, Fla. — On Sunday, one reporter asked Max Fried what it would mean “hypothetically” – because the Braves had not yet announced anything – if he were to start on opening day again.
It is not a hypothetical anymore.
On Friday, the Braves announced that Fried will start on opening day for the third consecutive season. He’ll take the ball when the Braves begin the regular season Thursday at the Nationals.
“It is an honor,” Fried said Friday. “Being chosen to start off the season, I want to be able to make sure we start off on the right foot. It’s Game 1 of 162, though. Obviously, it’s an extreme honor to go out there and pitch on opening day, but (the season is) a lot longer than just Game 1.”
Opening day is like a national holiday. Spring training brings optimism, and the opener does the same.
Everyone is 0-0.
Anything can happen.
“It’s the first time that you’ve pitched since the season before,” Fried said. “New season, new beginnings, new team. I think there’s just a lot of – I don’t know if nervous energy (is the correct term), but just excitement. I would say just more excitement about going into the season. We’ve been here for six weeks. Everyone’s kind of just ready to get on the road and start the normal routine of season.”
Depending on one’s definition of an ace, Fried might be in that group. He’s certainly one of baseball’s better starting pitchers, someone whose competitiveness matches his stuff.
Since the start of 2020, Fried has posted a 2.59 ERA. He closed out Houston in the World Series and then made an All-Star game.
He is one of the top pitchers in the sport.
“I think sometimes you forget how quickly Max just took that next step and how impressive he’s been over the last two years,” pitcher Kyle Wright said. “I think for me, watching his growth is a big part of it. He just kept getting better and better and better every year, which I think that’s the ultimate goal is to continue to get better.
“You watch him as a pitcher. He just has a great presence about him. Every time he takes the mound, you know you’re gonna get a good outing, you know we’re gonna have a chance to win that day – which, that’s the ultimate goal for a starter. There’s so many good things he does well. Just the ability to attack the game, attack the strike zone. Has command with all his pitches. He’s just the ultimate competitor.”
Fried, who made his debut in 2017, has developed into more of a leader. Fried, now 29, said it’s been organic. As he has gained experience, he has been able to answer more of his teammates’ questions.
“I still feel like I’m the same kid that just got called up and is trying to prove himself,” Fried said.
This spring, Fried has not allowed a run over 11-1/3 innings of Grapefruit League action. He has struck out 14 batters while walking four. (These statistics don’t count his outing in an exhibition game against Puerto Rico’s World Baseball Classic team or another time when he stayed back to pitch in North Port while the Braves went on the road for a spring game.)
Fried appears ready for the season.
“I would say, stuff-wise, we’re right where I want to be,” he said. “Execution’s been pretty good. Obviously, the results have been good, so it can kind of mask a lot of the other stuff. I feel like I can probably do a little bit better of being in the zone more often and not giving away at-bats, falling behind and letting those snowball. But all in all, I’m really happy with how I’m feeling, health and where we’re going into the year.”
In less than a week, Fried will face Patrick Corbin, the Nationals’ opening-day starter. This season, the Braves might be baseball’s best team – at least on paper. They have a stacked lineup and a deep pitching staff.
One of their leaders – on the field and in the clubhouse – is Fried, who is now viewed as one of the sport’s premier players.
“I still feel like there’s so many great guys. We have a lot of good guys on this team that are worthy of that kind of praise,” Fried said. “But I try not to think too much about it, just mostly go out there and just try to be the best version of myself, not try to compare myself to other people. I have one job, and that’s to take the ball on my day to pitch and try to win the game.”