Capping a Cleveland weekend saturated in suboptimal conditions, the Bringer of Rain arrived Sunday night.
The Braves defeated the Indians, 11-5, and snagged a series win behind the bat of Josh Donaldson. In his return to an American League park — the very venue he called home last September — he raked. He had three hits, including two homers, and didn’t shy away from showboating on ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball.”
And then there was Max Fried, whose break-out campaign is growing with every start. His two runs across 6-1/3 innings made his ERA to 1.38. He pitched with little pressure, owning a two-run lead before he even took the mound and a five-run lead before his second frame.
“The fastball command has been so much better,” manager Brian Snitker said. “The slider is becoming a really good pitch for him. The ability to spin the ball, it’s what we’ve been looking for out of him. The consistency in his delivery. He just seems to be taking it a pitch at a time.”
A series win seemed improbable late Saturday night, when the Braves lost Game 1 of a doubleheader and trailed the nightcap 7-0. The offense woke up, scoring five in the ninth, and they won 8-7.
No rally required in the finale. The Braves jumped on Indians starter Shane Bieber early, chasing him after 2-1/3 innings and scoring in the first four frames. The Braves plated two in the first, three in the second, three in the third and one in the fourth. Every position player in the lineup had a hit. At one point, the Braves had scored 17 unanswered dating back to their seven-run hole Saturday.
Through four innings, it was 9-0. The Braves had 10 hits. Despite a shoddy strike zone, Fried held the Indians to one. Unlike the evening before, this blowout didn't turn into a competitive finish. The Braves kept their foot on the gas, putting their last set — getting swept by the Diamondbacks — far in the rearview mirror.
Donaldson homered in the first, sending a low slider into the center field, just right of the outfield trees.
“They probably threw me about 45 sliders yesterday in the doubleheader,” Donaldson said. “So after he started me off slider and slider again, I thought it was probably going to be a slider again today since it worked for them.”
His second homer came on a too-high fastball that he dented to left (the ball was marked at 398 feet, shorter than the eye-test estimate). Donaldson has hit safely in 10 of his last 12 games, hitting .340 in that span.
On both homers, Donaldson enthusiastically celebrated. The second, particularly, grew traction on social media when Donaldson proudly flipped his bat and stuck out his tongue while beginning his trek around the bases.
‘Twas a rainy #SundayNightBaseball!@BringerOfRain20 | #ChopOn pic.twitter.com/NV07hBF3yI— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) April 22, 2019
Cleveland posted seven hits against Fried, though the offense was less productive than that’d indicate. The lefty walked three batters in the first and none the remainder. He struck out six while temporarily taking over as MLB’s ERA leader. His mistake — which Francisco Lindor planted in the seats during the seventh inning — will be overshadowed by a parade of swings-and-missed induced by his famed curveball.
The Braves hoped some of their youngsters would make strides in the early season. Fried has instead made a gigantic leap. Past his blister issues, Fried is receiving the consistent opportunity he wasn’t able to lock down in his first year-plus of his career.
“Mentality, just going after guys,” Fried said of the difference between this year and the past. “Just trusting my stuff, knowing I can throw the pitches where I want to. At the end of last year I felt pretty good. I felt like I was able to go after guys and be myself. I just realized that being the best version of me is going to be plenty good enough.”
He’s been the Braves’ best arm by a mile. On a team where command has reigned inconsistent, his control is impeccable. At times he’s painted the perfect picture of keeping hitters off balance. It’s four starts plus two bullpen appearances, but Fried has showed everything for which the Braves hoped.
“He’s really good,” catcher Brian McCann said. “To have the stuff he has and have that composure on the mound, he’s out there executing pitches. He’s not thinking about mechanics or pitches. When he pounds the zone like he did tonight, as he’s done all year, he’s tough to hit.”
The Braves are off Monday with an upcoming three-game series in Cincinnati starting Tuesday.
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Credit: Ben Hendren for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution