Fried assumes ace role, shuts down Blue Jays in Braves’ win

Credit: Atlanta Braves

Braves starter Max Fried addresses his leadership position on the pitching staff following the injury to Mike Soroka.

Credit: Atlanta Braves

After Mike Soroka suffered a season-ending Achilles tear on Monday night, Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman predicted Max Fried would “have a little something extra” in his upcoming start.

Freeman’s hopes came to fruition Tuesday: Fried mowed down the Blue Jays, allowing one run over six innings, in the Braves’ 10-1 win at Truist Park. One day after seeing their five-game winning streak snapped, the Braves rebounded and improved to 8-4.

Soroka wasn’t far from his friend’s mind during the outing.

“It’s been an interesting 24 hours,” Fried said. “I think what Freddie said last night summed it all up: It sucked. You see someone who works so hard, especially the way that Mike does, just the passion he has for it, then a season-ending injury after experiencing one before (in 2018), it’s heartbreaking. The good thing is how good spirits he was, how positive he is. … I know that if anyone is able to come back even better, it’s going to be him.”

ExplorePhotos from the Braves' victory

Fried was mostly sharp, scattering four hits, three strikeouts and two walks over his 80-pitch night. He was charged his only earned run on what looked like an Austin Riley error with two outs in the fifth. Anthony Alford hit a ball to third that deflected off Riley’s glove and into left field, allowing Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to score.

It appeared Riley simply missed the ball, but the play was ruled a single, thus charging an earned run to Fried. If Riley fields the ball cleanly, a routine throw to first would’ve ended the inning.

Outside the single blunder, Fried was in complete control. He allowed two baserunners across the first four frames. He produced a five-pitch third inning, quickly retiring the Blue Jays with a pop out and two grounders.

“He fought through some spots but that’s exactly what we needed,” manager Brian Snitker said. “We needed a strong start. He had a lot of emotions going with his buddy going down last night. I’m sure he felt like he needed to step up, and he damn sure did.”

When Soroka went down, Fried, 26, assumed the role as the Braves’ ace. He’s looked the part through three starts: Fried has allowed four earned runs on nine hits over 17-2/3 innings. He’s struck out 15 and walked five while holding opponents to a lowly .155 average.

“He definitely has the makeup (of a frontline starter),” said catcher Tyler Flowers, who had two hits, including a homer, on Tuesday. “The weapons he has, he has the ability to get out of any situation. He’s grown so much. He’s more comfortable with his delivery and executing pitches. He’s been pretty consistent and successful.”

Fried’s reliability is integral at a time the rest of the rotation lacks such. The Braves can bank on Fried covering innings and keeping them in the game, a comfort they haven’t yet found in any of their other pitchers.

But at least they have Fried, who after an encouraging 2019 - his first full major-league season - continues trending in the right direction. If Tuesday was an indication, he’s ready for the increased responsibility.

“The thing I’ve struggled with most so far is wanting to do more, feeling like my best isn’t enough and wanting to do extra,” Fried said. “So for me, it’s just staying with myself, trusting catchers, coaches, everyone in my preparation. As long as I go out there and do my best, that’s good enough. At the end of the day, all we’re trying to do is win games. It’s been weird getting back in the swing of things, but we’re starting to get (settled in) and make the most of it.”

Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Anthony Alford (30) is not able to catch a three-run home run by Atlanta Braves left fielder Austin Riley. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Notes from Tuesday:

- Designated hitter Matt Adams, who homered in the second inning, left the game early with left hamstring tightness. He grabbed his leg after running out a grounder in the fourth inning.

Adams is expected to be placed on the injured list. The Braves will be down one DH option for the foreseeable future. “It was tightening pretty good,” Snitker said. “Those things take a while.”

- The Braves dropped second baseman Ozzie Albies in the order for Tuesday’s game. Albies has struggled (.159) while battling right wrist soreness. He was dropped to seventh in the order, going 0-for-4 with a walk. Shortstop Dansby Swanson was moved up to Albies’ usual No. 2 spot.

“(The wrist) was biting him a little bit,” Snitker said. “In a close game I might’ve even hit for him. It’s something we’ll have to look at a little bit. … In that game, we didn’t take him out because we had the lead and I wanted him to play defense.”

Snitker said he would speak with the trainers after his post-game debriefing. They’ll discuss giving Albies extended rest, though Snitker didn’t say if the switch-hitter will land on the injured list.

- Riley made up for his botched fielding attempt with a three-run blast over the left-field wall in the Braves’ four-run fifth. Riley homered on Matt Shoemaker’s slider, breaking the game open and ending the opposing starter’s night.

Both his homers this season came off sliders, a promising sign for a player who struggled mightily with breaking balls last season. Riley also drew two walks.

- Ronald Acuna continued distancing himself from his slow start. Acuna posted a two-hit night – his fifth consecutive game with a hit – which included a double. He also stole his first base of the season.

The most impressive feat of his night was beating out a throw home in the fifth, when Freeman’s infield grounder was enough to score the speedy Acuna from third.

“I told him if I could run like you, I’d sell my car,” Snitker said. “This kid has another gear. When he gets hauling, it’s fun to watch.”

Acuna is coming off his best series of the season, when he hit .353 (6-for-17) with four extra-base hits across four games against the Mets. Prior to the series, Acuna was 4-for-28 over the Braves’ first seven games.

- After seeing his 10-game hit streak to start the season (11 games overall) end Monday, Swanson singled in his fourth at-bat. He later doubled home two runs in the eighth. Swanson was off to a scorching-hot start before going 0-for-4 Monday.

Swanson hit .357/.400/.595 over his 11-game streak. He leads the National League with 13 RBIs.

- Fried picked off Teoscar Hernandez after a single in the first inning. It was the second time Fried has picked off a baserunner this season.

The southpaw’s six pickoffs tied him for second in the majors last season behind Zach Plesac, who had six. With his two pickoffs this season, Fried has the most in the majors since the beginning of the 2019 campaign.

- The Braves have scored seven or more runs in five of their 12 games. It’s proven enough to overcome some of their rotation issues thus far. Their 69 runs lead the majors. It’s more impressive that much of the production has come without Acuna, Albies and even Freeman (.195) at their best. The trio has combined for 17 RBIs.

- Left-hander Will Smith is scheduled to pitch in a simulated game Thursday, Snitker said. If all goes well, he could rejoin the team at any time. Smith missed summer camp and the start of the season after testing positive for COVID-19. The Braves were hoping he’d return before they begin their next road trip Friday in Philadelphia.

- The Braves and Blue Jays resume their three-game series Wednesday, when lefties Sean Newcomb and Hyun-Jin Ryu face off. The Braves are seeking their fourth series win in five tries (the four games against Tampa Bay were considered a pair of two-game series).