NEW YORK – Braves rookie Max Fried worked out of several tight spots and pitched well enough to win on plenty of nights, just not Monday night against the Mets and a pitcher who’s becoming a bit of an unlikely Atlanta nemesis.
Seth Lugo, he of the 5.03 ERA before Monday, pitched six innings of two-hit ball in a 3-2 win against the Braves in the nightcap to give the Mets a doubleheader split at CitiField.
Fried (1-1) gave up seven hits, two runs (one earned) and one walk with two strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings, and also hit two batters and made a throwing error to first base that led to the unearned run. The lefty prospect induced three double-play grounders in his first major league loss, which came in his eighth game and third start.
“I felt like there was a lot of good and a lot of stuff I still need to work on,” Fried said. “I have to make that swinging-bunt play (on Juan Lagares’ third-inning slow roller). That’s a play that has to be made. It compounded things. There’s two errors in that inning. Can’t do that. Put us behind. That was a tough spot after that. Just on my end of it, I have to make that play.”
The Braves trailed 3-0 before scoring twice in the ninth inning on a Jace Peterson RBI single and Matt Kemp ground-out, after Kurt Suzuki’s second hit and an error allowing Freddie Freeman to reach base.
A Travis d’Arnaud homer off struggling reliever Jose Ramirez in the eighth didn’t seem so critical at the time, but ultimately proved decisive.
Lugo (7-5) improved to 3-0 with a 1.35 ERA in three career starts against the Braves including an 0.69 ERA in two starts this season. He walked none, struck out seven and retired the last 12 batters he faced following Lane Adams’ leadoff single in the third inning.
With the Braves trailing 2-0 in the eighth inning, Matt Adams and Ender Inciarte had consecutive one-out singles – Inciarte’s 199th hit of the season – before Ozzie Albies and Nick Markakis grounded out.
D’Arnaud then homered on the first pitch thrown by Ramirez to push the lead to 3-0 and give the Mets a new franchise-record 219 home runs this season.
The Braves’ top setup man most of the season, Ramirez has faded recently, allowing seven runs, seven hits (two homers) and three walks while recording four outs over his past three appearances — a 47.25 ERA and .636 opponents’ average in that stretch. Four of the runs and both homers came in two appearances against the Mets Sept. 15 and Monday.
“Just trying to get Jose in there in a not-stressful inning a little bit,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “Because he’d been struggling a little and he’s had four days off, so I thought maybe that might be a good spot for him right there to get going. The ball just came right back over the middle and (d’Arnaud) did what he’s supposed to do with it.”
The Braves got a strong performance from rookie starter Lucas Sims in a 9-2 win in the doubleheader opener, but in the nightcap Fried didn’t get any run support and was also victimized by sloppy defense in the early innings, including a missed pop-up by Rio Ruiz in the rookie’s first start at first base – slugger Freeman was just getting a rest in the early innings – and a throwing error by Fried after fielding Lagares’ slow grounder in front of the mound.
Fried hit a batter to load the bases in the second and hit another batter in the third, though neither of the hit-by-pitches contributed to a Mets run. Fried induced an inning-ending double-play grounder from pitcher Lugo after hitting No. 8 hitter Gavin Cecchini with a pitch that loaded the bases in the second.
In the third, the Mets got a leadoff single from Brandon Nimmo before Lagares reached on Fried error’s when when the left-hander made a high throw to Ruiz at first base, putting two runners in scoring position with none out. Asdrubal Cabrera’s ground-out drove in the first run of the game and d’Arnaud followed with an RBI double before Fried hit Kevin Plawecki with a pitch, putting runners at first and second with one out.
Fried escaped further damage by getting a Travis Taijeron line-out to center and striking out Matt Reynolds looking to end the inning.
“A little traffic out there tonight,” Snitker said of Fried’s eventful game. “He did great. He made pitches, kept pitching, and it was a nice, solid outing for him.”
Fried didn’t have the regular feel for his hard breaking ball, but still induced three double-play grounders in the first five innings, including one by Asdrubal Cabrera in the first inning after the Mets got a ground-rule double and single from their first two batters, and one by Lugo with bases loaded in a scoreless second inning.
But his good fortune ran out in the third when the Mets got two runs (one earned).
“I just went out there and did everything I possibly could to keep us in the game,” Fried said. “Leadoff double (in first inning), kept him on second, that was big. Some big double plays made behind me, which really helped me. If I throw a good quality pitch down the zone, probably going to get two. It definitely was a big help.
“I didn’t really have my harder curveball that’s more of my ‘out’ pitch. I tried to throw it a couple of times back foot, and literally hit the guy’s back foot. My other one, getting it over for strikes to keep them honest. Change-up worked well tonight, so… Mixing speeds and just going after guys.”
Lugo, a right-hander with a tight curveball, limited the Braves to six hits and one run in seven innings in a June 11 at SunTrust Park in his major league season debut, and was even better against them Monday.
In his 16 games between those two dominant performances against the Braves, he was 5-5 with a 5.34 ERA and .295 opponents’ batting average.
“Those guys that mix it up, they pitch,” Snitker said. “They move it around and change speeds, and it’s kind of — I don’t know — good enough, I guess. They keep it away from the barrel of the bat. We had a hard time getting ahold of him (in June), too.”