Potential opening-day start would be ‘a great honor’ for Braves ace Max Fried

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Technically, the Braves haven’t announced their opening-day starting pitcher yet.

“You’re right, I haven’t said it officially,” manager Brian Snitker said, with a hint of dry humor in there.

So, hypothetically, if Max Fried were to start opening day for the Braves – wink, wink – what would that mean to him?

“Well, hypothetically, it would be a great honor,” Fried said. “But at the end of the day, I’m just gonna go out there and take the ball. Whenever they tell me, I’m gonna go pitch.”

In Sunday’s 5-0 win over the Twins at Hammond Stadium, Fried allowed one hit – yes, one, over 6 ⅓ innings, extending his scoreless run in spring training games. He struck out five batters and walked two. He threw 68 pitches.

The Braves sent him back out for the seventh inning so he could try to reach his pitch count. He fell short, Snitker said. But Fried got one more “up” (sitting down for a half-inning, then going back out to pitch), which might be more valuable than the pitch count.

Anything can happen, but Fried seems ticketed to start the team’s opener March 30 in Washington. If he stayed on his current schedule, Fried would pitch that game on extra rest.

“I was fortunate enough to start opening day for the last couple years, and I think the first time, it was definitely emotional, kind of had a lot of those feelings,” Fried said. “I feel like every time you take that first start of the season, you have those feelings no matter what, whether it’s the first game or the fifth game. You get those butterflies again because you know baseball’s back.”

Over 11 ⅓ innings in Grapefruit League play, Fried hasn’t allowed a run. (These statistics don’t count an outing versus Team Puerto Rico and a day when Fried stayed back to pitch in North Port while the team traveled to a road game.)

“Just kind of what you come to expect out of him,” Snitker said. “He’s elevated himself to one of the elite pitchers in the game. This is because he never stops. He’s never satisfied, he’s always looking to get better, he’s always working. And that’s what’s gonna continue to make him great for a long time.”

After Fried needed only 64 pitches to complete six innings Sunday, the coaches gave him the option of finishing his afternoon by throwing more pitches in the bullpen or going back for a seventh inning. Fried chose the latter because he wanted to continue facing batters.

He put the finishing touches on another outing to continue a terrific spring.

“I feel like I’ve been able to throw all my pitches for strikes. Have the hitter or two that kind of things get lost and try to dial that back in,” Fried said. “But for the most part I’ve been really happy (with) the pace and getting familiar with the new rules and kind of just going out there and competing again.”

In less than two weeks, Fried could start on opening day. For now, we’ll say “could” because the Braves haven’t made it official.

Until then, Fried will continue fine-tuning his game before the regular season.

“Trying to look at things more process-oriented rather than results-oriented,” Fried said. “Every outing, there are certain things that I want to build on or get better in, and I’ve felt like I’ve been able to kind of do that so far. Fortunately for me, the results have been good to be able to (get) back to that. I think spring training is just more about being process-oriented rather than results-oriented.”

Dylan Dodd intrigued by analytics

In the majors – and even in the minors – analytics are more prevalent than ever. “Analytics” doesn’t have to be this catch-all term.

Teams simply try to use these metrics to help players.

Dylan Dodd has enjoyed learning more about them.

“I’m still new to it because in college, I didn’t have access to really any of that,” said Dodd, who went to Southeast Missouri State. “It’s been a little bit of a transition, kind of just learning the language of it, so to speak.”

One metric Dodd has paid attention to in pro ball: vertical movement. (True to its name, this measures how much a pitch drops.) Take Dodd’s change-up, for example. He’s trying to get that pitch to dive down, so it complements his fastball. Looking at the vertical movement readings helps him see whether his pitch achieved the intended action.

With analytics, it’s important for players to know what’s important and what they can actually apply.

“And the Braves have great people here that know how to interpret what they’re seeing and translate it to the individual,” Dodd said.

The Braves, Dodd said, have an analyst at every minor-league level that will relay these metrics during bullpen sessions or otherwise. The pitching coaches in the minors are also knowledgeable about these numbers and can translate them for players.

Asked if the fastball is his best pitch, Dodd said: “Possibly. Honestly, I think it depends on the day, really. I think it can be the change-up, too, sometimes.”

He said he’s always been able to pronate – or rotate his hand when throwing a pitch – well, which helps with throwing a change-up. After the Braves drafted him in 2021, he saw the data and began to tinker with grips to hone that pitch.

At his core, Dodd has always been a strike-thrower. During his two community college seasons, he threw 88 mph. He eventually topped out at 95 mph in his final season at Southeast Missouri State.

The point: He had no choice but to pound the zone.

“I’ve had to be a strike-thrower kind of my whole life because I didn’t always have the best stuff, especially growing up when I wasn’t throwing very hard or I was always kind of undersized and stuff,” Dodd said. “So if I didn’t throw strikes and I started walking guys, I was gonna give up hits anyways, so it was very important that I didn’t give up any more free base runners. So that’s always been something that I’ve kind of taken pride in and continued with throughout my career.”

Marcell Ozuna hits first spring homer

Marcell Ozuna homered in the win.

“He’s starting to look like Marcell Ozuna again, which is really good,” Snitker said. “If we can get him back to what he’s capable of – two years ago, he was (in the) conversation for MVP, so it’d be great to get him back.”

Earlier this month, Snitker said Ozuna would be on the opening-day roster. The manager said Ozuna’s performance will determine his playing time (like anyone else).

Ozuna seems poised to be the Braves’ primary designated hitter.

Ozzie Albies homers

A minute or so after Sunday’s game began, Ozzie Albies really got it going with a leadoff homer. It was his third homer of the spring.

On Monday, Albies, who was the designated hitter Sunday, will play seven innings at second base, Snitker said.

“He’s in a good place,” Snitker said. “He’s continuing to just get himself back going.”

Braves make one more cut

The Braves on Sunday outrighted righty Jackson Stephens to Triple-A. They now have 41 players in camp.

Over the offseason, Stephens signed a one-year, non-guaranteed split contract with Atlanta. He spent all of last season in the bullpen.

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