Max Fried makes first start since helping Braves clinch World Series title

Pitcher Max Fried addresses the crowd Nov. 5 at Truist Park. (Daniel Varnado/ For The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

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Pitcher Max Fried addresses the crowd Nov. 5 at Truist Park. (Daniel Varnado/ For The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Max Fried took the mound Tuesday at Hammond Stadium, surrounded by a tame 6,000 fans - most of whom appeared to be Fort Myers retirees - for his first exhibition tune-up. Fried pitched three innings, finishing early on a breezy day perfect for hitting the beach.

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The stakes were quite a bit higher his last time out. Just 140 days ago, Fried twirled six scoreless innings as the Braves defeated the Astros in Game 6 to secure their second World Series title since moving to Atlanta.

Now the Braves start all over again. So does Fried.

“It feels like yesterday and also, like, a long time ago,” Fried said. “It’s a really weird, eerie feeling. But I’m really just happy to get the competitive juices again, working with (catcher) Travis (d’Arnaud). It just felt like normal again.”

Fried cruised in his first spring outing, which became a 4-0 Braves victory over the Twins. His only blemish was hitting Twins outfielder Byron Buxton with a pitch in the first plate appearance. He needed only four pitches to finish the inning unscathed.

After hitting Buxton, Fried retired nine consecutive, one via strikeout, with effortless efficiency. He threw 25 pitches (17 strikes) and threw additional pitches in the bullpen after exiting the game. He worked quickly and deliberately. Fried hovered in the mid-90s throughout the start.

“I thought he was awesome,” manager Brian Snitker said.

In Fried’s past two seasons, he’s posted a 2.84 ERA with 208 strikeouts to 60 walks in 39 starts (221 ⅔ innings). He finished fifth in Cy Young voting during the shortened 2020 campaign. He’s been an opening-day starter (2021). He’s won consecutive Gold Gloves. He became the last pitcher to win a Silver Slugger before the universal designated hitter was implemented.

Fried’s ascent culminated in the World Series, when he became the new-age Tom Glavine. He’s the latest Braves lefty to keep the opponent scoreless in a World Series-winning Game 6. So what’s next?

“I don’t know, probably win a Cy Young?” Snitker said. “Just continue to win more than he loses. Max will never be satisfied. He’ll always look at how he can better himself, give himself an edge. He’s a very driven and competitive guy.”

Fried, 28, is a veteran of the staff. The Braves’ rotation is their biggest unknown, with spots up for grabs behind Charlie Morton, Ian Anderson and Fried. The Braves are going to rely heavily on their core three given the uncertainty surrounding the other candidates. Fried is used to the added pressure. He was the only non-rookie in a rotation that helped the Braves come within a World Series berth in 2020. He led the staff during its postseason run last year.

It’s likely Fried will make his second consecutive opening-day start April 7 against the Reds at Truist Park, though the Braves haven’t yet announced it.

“It would be a great honor,” Fried said. “It’s hard to do, especially with a team that’s as good as we are and has as many good arms as we do. It’d be an honor, but at the same time, it’s not my decision. Whenever they tell me to go out there, I’ll be ready to take the ball and try to win a game.”