“I don’t know that I’ve ever pulled for a guy more than him,” manager Brian Snitker said. “Just what he did last year. Went back (down to Triple-A), the year that he had, came back up and helped us right away. I’m really happy that he’s doing well for his sake and ours. He’s an easy guy to root for.”
Appropriately, Ozuna’s seventh-inning homer came off Daniel Castano, who was among the four players the Marlins acquired when they traded Ozuna to St. Louis in 2017. It was Ozuna’s second homer in Miami as a visitor.
The two solo shots were enough to win it because Max Fried pitched seven scoreless innings. As the Braves approach the halfway point of the season, it’s not unreasonable to think the 26-year-old is on his way to assembling a Cy Young case, especially with only 38 games remaining.
“I’d say I’m just trying not to put too much pressure on myself,” Fried said. “The way I’ve been throwing the ball is good enough. I’m just trying to go out there and execute pitches and follow the game plan. I really trust (catcher) Travis (d’Arnaud) back there. We’ve worked well together. We bounce stuff off each other. I just compete and try to win the game.”
Fried pitched 6-1/3 innings, allowing four hits, striking out seven and walking three (103 pitches). He also continued an important trend: Fried hasn’t allowed a run in the first four innings in any of his five outings. That’s a complete shift from the rest of the rotation, which isn’t even consistently pitching beyond four innings.
Like Mike Soroka’s growth a season ago, Fried has burst onto the scene early. Every outing, he’s commanded the zone and showcased his full increasing repertoire. The slider was particularly sharp Saturday, generating 18 swings (nine misses) on 29 pitches.
“Whenever he goes out there, you like your chances,” Duvall said. “You know that if you can get a couple runs on the board, you have a good chance to win, especially with the way he’s been pitching. Just attacking guys. It’s fun to play defense behind that. Working ahead. He’s just a man on a mission out there. It was fun to watch tonight.”
Fried lowered his ERA to 1.24 across 29 innings. He hasn’t just emerged into a frontline starter. To this point, he’s been one of baseball’s best aces. And he’s achieved it with immense pressure, knowing how much the team counts on his reliability every fifth day.
“You think about where he was a couple years ago and where he’s at now, the confidence, the maturity,” Snitker said. “He’s getting stronger mentally, stronger physically. You hear him in the dugout after innings. He has an idea with every pitch, what he wants to do. It’s been cool to be here watching that happen.”
Notes from Saturday:
- One reason Fried kept his shutout was because of his pick-off move. After walking Monte Harrison, Fried caught him at first. Jonathan Villar doubled, likely meaning Fried saved a run with his pick-off move.
Few pitchers in baseball are better at nabbing baserunners than Fried. He’s picked off three runners in five starts this season, and his 13 pickoffs since 2017 are second most in the majors.
“Max does so many of the little things to help himself,” Snitker said. “He picks guys off, he fields his position. He’s a good guy for our young guys to watch.”
- The Braves’ lead – and again, Fried’s ERA – were protected by Shane Greene, who took over for Fried with two on and one out in the seventh. He got Matt Joyce to ground into a force out and struck out Eddy Alvarez to leave the runners stranded.
Greene, an All-Star with the Tigers last season, has been an instrumental part of the bullpen’s success. He hasn’t allowed a run in nine appearances (8-1/3 innings). Greene has struck out seven while only issuing one walk.
- Southpaw Will Smith allowed his first run in a Braves uniform. Harrison hit the first homer of his career off Smith, tying the game at 1-1 in the eighth.
- Players stationed at the Braves’ alternate training site in Gwinnett played a televised exhibition at Truist Park on Saturday afternoon. Ian Anderson and Kyle Muller started the game.
Anderson made mistakes – including surrendering a homer to veteran slugger Peter O’Brien, whose power stood out in spring training – but he induced several swings and misses. His change-up’s improvement was evident.
All eyes are on the 22-year-old, who should eventually get his chance in the Braves’ rotation. Each day, and each troublesome start, that opportunity grows closer.
- Among those eager to see Anderson: Hawks sharpshooter Kevin Huerter. Anderson, 22, and Huerter, 21, are both from Clifton Park, New York, and played youth sports together, forging a long-time friendship. Both are now aiming to be big parts of their Atlanta franchises’ futures.
Quote-tweeting an Anderson highlight reel posted by @FoxSportsBraves, Huerter said: “It’s time. Let’s make the call @Braves”
- The Braves are turning to newcomer Robbie Erlin and their bullpen in Sunday’s series-deciding game. The lefty will start against Marlins right-hander Elieser Hernandez, who will make his third start of the season.