Max Fried gives Braves another strong start

Max Fried held MLB’s highest-scoring team to one run in six innings Monday night, giving the Braves what they have become accustomed to: another dominant performance by a young starting pitcher.

Against a deep and patient Los Angeles Dodgers lineup, Fried allowed four hits, walked two and struck out nine. He then turned Game 1 of the best-of-seven National League Championship Series over to the Braves' bullpen with the score tied 1-1.

Three Braves relievers — Chris Martin, Will Smith and Mark Melancon — combined for three hitless innings, and the Braves won 5-1 on a four-run ninth-inning eruption against the Dodgers' bullpen.

“I think it’s huge,” Fried said of the series-opening win. “You always want to start off on the right foot. … It gives you that confidence of knowing we only (need) three more (wins) to get through this series and four more after that.”

The one run allowed by Fried was the first allowed by a Braves starter in the past three games.

In the final two games of last week’s Division Series against Miami, Braves rookie starters Ian Anderson and Kyle Wright pitched 5-2/3 and six scoreless innings, respectively. In the six games of this postseason, Braves starters have allowed five earned runs (all against Fried) in 34-2/3 innings (17 by Fried). That comes to a combined 1.30 ERA for the Fried-Anderson-Wright trio. Factor in the bullpen, which has allowed just one earned run in 23-1/3 innings, and the Braves' staff ERA this postseason is a mind-boggling 0.93.

Give extra weight to Fried’s (and the bullpen’s) performance Monday because it came against a lineup demonstrably deeper and better than those the Braves faced in the earlier playoff rounds.

“Tonight is another evidence of the growth of this young pitcher and where he has come,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said of Fried. “… And I told him that, too: The stage that you’re on and how you responded was really impressive.”

The Dodgers led the major leagues in runs scored and home runs during the regular season.

“It’s an extremely disciplined lineup,” Fried said. "You have to go after them. You’ve got to attack. They’re not going to chase. … The walk in the first inning, I thought that was a really good pitch, and they laid off it.

“I knew I was going to have to come after them a little bit more with some off-speed stuff. I was just trying to make adjustments all day. It’s a really good, smart lineup. They’re really prepared. It was a tough battle.”

The game got off to a taxing start for Fried, who needed 45 pitches to get through the first two innings. Of the Dodgers' 10 batters in those innings, none swung at Fried’s first pitch.

After striking out the first two batters of the game on a total of 11 pitches, Fried got into a bit of a jam when Justin Turner and Max Muncy reached on a single and a walk, respectively. Fried struck out Dodgers catcher Will Smith to end a 28-pitch opening inning.

The Dodgers put two runners on base against Fried again in the second inning on AJ Pollock’s one-out single and Chris Taylor’s two-out walk. Fried retired Mookie Betts on a fly ball to center to end a 17-pitch inning.

“I looked (at the pitch count) after the second inning, and I was thinking ‘if we get four innings out of him, we’ll be lucky,’” Snitker said. “But he started rolling.”

Fried retired the Dodgers in order in the third and fourth innings, moderating his pitch count by getting through those innings on a total of 21 pitches.

“Even with the strikeouts, all of a sudden I was looking in the third and fourth (innings), and it, like, wow, he’s catching back up,” Snitker said. “That was big, I think, to get the game where he did.”

Enrique Hernandez’s 393-foot home run to left field, leading off the fifth inning, was the only real damage the Dodgers did against Fried. It was just the fourth home run allowed by Fried this year (two in the postseason and two in the regular season). It was the first homer against him off a curveball this year.

“I made a mistake, paid for it, but we were able to kind of hang on, and it was a really good team win,” Fried said.

He finished his night’s work with a 1-2-3 sixth inning, collecting his eighth and ninth strikeouts. He threw a total of 96 pitches.

It was his third consecutive Game 1 start in this postseason, this one against the team that Fried, who grew up in the Los Angeles area, cheered as a child. He pitched seven scoreless innings in the first game of the wild-card series against Cincinnati, but struggled in Game 1 of the Division Series against Miami, allowing four runs on six hits in four innings.

“To be able to come out in a tie ballgame (Monday) and give us that opportunity to win it … I’m just really happy,” Fried said.

Now he looks forward to watching Anderson and Wright start the next two games .

“I can’t wait,” Fried said. "They’re chomping at the bit. They’re really excited to get out there. It’s going to be more of the same.

“You’re going to see two guys attacking the strike zone, just giving their best stuff and putting it all out there and trying to help the team win.”