Max Fried returns with clean health, adjustments after tough start

Max Fried is back, and the Braves lefty expects to be a much more refined pitcher than he was across his first three outings. He’s scheduled to start Wednesday in Washington.

Fried hasn’t started a game since April 13, when he strained his hamstring running the bases. Beforehand, his season was off to a brutal start: He had an 11.45 ERA in three starts, which was the worst in the majors for those qualified.

While it took time to move past the hamstring injury, the time off wasn’t the worst thing for Fried, who had a 2.25 ERA in 11 starts last season. Fried stepped back and re-evaluated. It was a chance to hit the reset button.

“I didn’t have a good start, so you don’t want to sit there with a bad taste in your mouth,” Fried said. “I used this time to really focus, figure out what was wrong and try to make the adjustments to come back, be ready and try to win some games.”

Fried explained that his timing was off, contributing to his early struggles. In his past two starts, the southpaw allowed 12 earned runs on 17 hits in only six innings. He was charged with eight runs (seven earned) on nine hits in his most recent start, when the Braves lost to the Marlins.

During his self-evaluation, Fried said he identified some inconsistencies and said he believes he’s rectified the issues. He adds he’s 100% healthy and felt good after pitching a live batting practice ahead of his start.

“I wasn’t as crisp in my delivery,” he said. “I just wasn’t as timed up. I felt like I was really late and falling forward, wasn’t really driving the baseball like I was last year. I definitely wanted to make sure that when I came back I’d be doing more of driving the baseball and focusing on executing those spots like I was last year rather than throwing it in there.

“I feel more timed up. I feel like everything is more crisp and on point. I’m excited to take it out there, not think about it and go compete.”

The Braves have missed the old Fried, with whom they were 10-1 in his starts last season. They’ve lost two of his three starts in 2021. Overall, the team is 12-16 after getting swept by the Blue Jays in Florida over the weekend. This has been a trying, frustrating start for a club that was a few innings from a World Series berth last season.

Injuries have played a role. Fried and Drew Smyly were out for a while. The former is just now returning, while the latter hasn’t found his footing through the first month. The Braves’ offense has been dinged up, too, with injuries and underperformance.

“We’re battling,” Fried said. “Obviously we’ve had some injuries, guys are battling out there. Not playing our best, but definitely not out of it. We believe in every single one of these guys in the clubhouse. We know what we’re capable of, so it’s a matter of going out there, competing to the best of our abilities and trying to win. It’s still early.”

Early, indeed. Despite their generally poor play, the Braves are only two games back in the National League East. The Nationals, against whom the Braves open a three-game series Tuesday, lead the division with a 12-12 record. It’s helped the Braves that the rest of the East has been almost equally sluggish.

If the Braves are going to get back to their winning ways – and have a real shot at a pennant – they need the Fried of 2020 back. They’ll get their first look at a rejuvenated Fried on Tuesday.

“It’s going to be good to get him back in the rotation and on a regular basis,” manager Brian Snitker said. “He’s a very important piece to what we have going on here. When you lose a guy like that, there’s really no replacing him. It’ll be good to get him back in the action and doing what he can do.”