The Braves’ original rotation is down to zero.
Left-hander Max Fried was placed on the 10-day injured list with a left-side muscle spasm in his lumbar spine. The move was back dated to Sept. 6. The ace experienced a sharp drop in velocity in his past start.
The Braves are hopeful Fried will return next week in the Sept. 16-18 range, when they will be on their final road trip of the season. Depending on how they handle the rotation, Fried could have two or three more starts before the postseason.
“During his last start he complained of some low-back tightness and pain,” general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. “He’d been getting treatment. We’d been waiting to see how he’s going to respond. At one point, there was talk thought that we could move him back a day or two to give it a little more time to respond. The more we talked about it as an organization, we decided the best thing was to put him on the IL, back date it. With no off days, playing short and so on, this was the smartest thing to do in our minds.
“He’ll be eligible to be back on the 16th. It doesn’t mean for sure that he’ll make that start, but his concern was he’d miss too much time because he doesn’t think he’s that far off. Right now, we could plug him into that start the last game against the Orioles. If not, we’d expect it to be no later than Friday the 18th against the Mets on the road.”
Anthopoulos added that the organization is “extremely confident this will be short-lived.” For the Braves to make a postseason run, it has to be.
Fried was carrying the load for a decimated rotation, posting a 1.98 ERA across nine starts (50 innings). He’s the only starting averaging more than five innings (5.6), excluding Ian Anderson’s small sample size (three starts). Fried was firmly in the Cy Young Award conversation and has blossomed into a legitimate front-line starter.
“I think it’s discomfort more than anything big,” manager Brian Snitker said. “So hopefully missing one start will be enough and we’ll get him back healthy.”
The southpaw was leading a patched-together staff that lost the rest of its opening-day group. Mike Soroka is out for the season with a torn Achilles. Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb underperformed to the extent that they were jettisoned to the alternate training site. Veterans Felix Hernandez (decided against playing) and Cole Hamels (injury) haven’t pitched this season, though the latter is expected to debut later this month.
Kyle Wright and Touki Toussaint had opportunities to assert themselves, but neither established himself in the rotation. The group now includes converted long relievers Josh Tomlin and Robbie Erlin, newcomer Tommy Milone and a rookie in Anderson.
“There are just so many variables we’re dealing with, we just take it day to day,” Snitker said. “I’m absolutely (happy with how team has overcome adversity). I looked up and we’re still in first. We lost our fifth or sixth starter today. We’ll continue to keep trying to piece this thing together and win as many games these last few weeks as we can.
“Thank God we only have 19 (games) left instead of 119 or whatever. It’s this year, more than anything, with what’s transpired and what we’ve been through. This is just another little bump in the road. We just have to keep going.”
Lefty Robbie Erlin is the likeliest candidate to start Thursday in Washington, which was Fried’s next turn.
Wright was recalled to take Fried’s vacated spot and will start Tuesday, beginning yet another rotation bid for the 24-year-old. The Braves also reinstated right-handed reliever Jacob Webb from the 45-day IL and designated utilityman Charlie Culberson for assignment.
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