‘Leave everything out there’: Why this mantra has defined Braves ace Max Fried’s rise

Braves starter Max Fried is interviewed in front of video camera during the team's photo day Feb. 23 in North Port, Florida. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

Braves starter Max Fried is interviewed in front of video camera during the team's photo day Feb. 23 in North Port, Florida. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

NORTH PORT, Fla. – Through the years and all they have brought – from the early struggles to a World Series ring to his status as one of the game’s aces – Max Fried has kept close a mantra he told himself when he was younger.

“Every opportunity that you get to take the mound,” Fried said, “make the most of it and leave everything out there.”

Nothing is guaranteed – not even for Fried, who has become one of baseball’s top starters. You see his World Series ring, his inclusion in the Cy Young Award conversation, his nasty stuff, his status as one of the elite arms in baseball, but you might forget about how he arrived here.

Reflecting now, Fried believes he had times in the minor leagues when he “held back” or “was vulnerable” on the mound. Eventually, he took to a certain mindset: “Leave everything that you have out there every single time, you never know if this could be your last.” He freed himself from the tentativeness because he had no other choice.

Before the Braves called him up, Fried was 2-11 with a 5.92 ERA – in Double A. At the time, he had no idea if he would ever reach the majors. All he could do was put everything he had into each outing and each pitch.

“I didn’t know if it was gonna be my last time ever taking the mound, which had been my dream since I’ve been a little kid,” Fried said. “Just kind of taking that outlook or that mentality with me every single year, knowing that there’s a bunch of young kids, people are getting drafted every year looking to take your job, and all that kind of stuff. So you’ve got to stay on top of it and always make the adjustment.”

Fried’s spring debut on Monday also provided an opportunity to appreciate his rise. Tuesday marks the seven-year anniversary of his first big-league spring training appearance. He struck out one over a scoreless inning versus the Tigers in Lakeland. “It’s weird because it feels like yesterday, but it also feels so long ago, there’s so much that’s happened since then,” Fried said. Now 30, the lefty has learned a lot.

Years ago, Braves manager Brian Snitker saw a Mercedes E350 in the parking lot at camp. He asked someone who owned it.

“That’s that Fried kid that we got from San Diego,” the person told Snitker.

Since then, Snitker has witnessed Fried’s development from a young prospect to an ace. In his job, Snitker follows the careers of many players, some more memorable than others. Fried’s is rather special.

“Max grows into one of the best pitchers of the game,” Snitker said. “He’s in a yearly Cy Young conversation. It’s been fun for me to watch how they’ve done it and how they go about it, and how dedicated they are to what they’re doing. It’s been really neat to see him grow and develop.”

The thing Snitker always says about Fried: The lefty is never satisfied.

“He’s always trying to get better, I guess, and he’s got a lot of weapons, and he uses them all,” Snitker said. “I’ve always just admired his ability to spin the ball. Then he developed a really good (changeup). Then he added a slider. So it’s kind of been really cool to watch everything. It’s fun to watch him pitch.”

Fried has always been someone who’s never satisfied – sort of.

“I think it was always in there, but I didn’t tap into it until, I would say, I got called up to the big leagues and it was, ‘You’re either gonna be here or you’re gonna have to find another job or do something like that,’” Fried said. “I think it was always in me, but I never really tapped into it. And then getting the opportunities and knowing that I was just one of a lot of guys fighting for very few spots, whether it was bullpen or starting, that you have to try to take the opportunities that you get and make the most of it.”

Since debuting in 2017, Fried has a 3.03 ERA over 710 innings. At the beginning, he came out of the bullpen. Now, he might be the sport’s top left-handed starter when healthy. And he possesses a quiet competitiveness.

In Game 6 of the 2021 World Series, Michael Brantley accidentally stepped on Fried’s foot while the pitcher went to cover first – a player Snitker views as one of the scariest moments of his own career. But Fried was fine. He pitched six scoreless innings to close out the Astros and win the World Series. “Almost like it ticked him off a little bit,” Snitker said of the play. The great ones, the manager added, have a different competitiveness.

Nowadays, Fried regularly dominates on the mound. He uses a four-seam fastball, curveball, changeup, slider and sinker to dismantle opposing lineups. His preparation before a start is elite.

Yes, Fried’s stuff is disgusting. But he’s a nightmare for opponents, Matt Olson said, because he knows the game so well. As a hitter, he’s difficult to pick up because he attacks batters in so many ways.

“He’s gonna pitch guys differently,” Olson said. “He doesn’t just look at it like a righty and say, ‘OK, I’m gonna throw four-seams in.’ He’s got the ability to have multiple kinds of pitches and pitch guys completely differently. If I go and face him, he might throw sinkers under my hands. Say another lefty goes in – Mike (Harris) goes in – he might throw him four-seams away. To be able to have essentially two different at-bats from the same side of the plate is tough to pick up on.

“He does his homework. Between fastball, sinker, changeup, slider, curve, they’re all (above-average) to plus pitches. And just when you have that number of pitches and you think the game the way he does, you’re gonna have success.”

On Monday, Fried held the Orioles scoreless over two hitless innings at CoolToday Park. He struck out two hitters and walked one. It was a stress-free outing. Next month, Fried could start his fourth consecutive opening day for Atlanta.

But his feelings toward Monday – a low-key, laid-back spring start – mirror the mindset that he’s used throughout his ascension in baseball.

“(I) get the same butterflies I got back then,” Fried said. “Maybe a little bit more back then, but I still get the same butterflies every single time I take the mound.”