Through the first six innings Friday night, Max Fried was about as good as he has been at any point in this breakout season.
The 25-year-old left-hander struck out 11 in those six innings and, despite being knocked out of the game in the seventh, wound up with his 15th win of the season as the Braves beat the Chicago White Sox 10-7 in the opener of a nine-game homestand.
Fried (15-4) held the White Sox hitless until one out in the fifth inning, when a soft infield single gave them their first baserunner, and to one run on three hits through six innings. His performance was tarnished in the seventh, when he didn’t retire a batter and three runs (two earned) were charged to him.
“Obviously, I didn’t finish the way I wanted. I felt like I was trying to make too perfect of pitches,” Fried said. “But as a whole, as an outing, I felt like it was good, being able to move the ball around and give us a chance to win.”
The Braves have won each of Fried’s past eight starts, dating to July 15. He is 6-0 during that stretch. For the season, the Braves are 20-8 in Fried’s starts, including 13-2 in his past 15.
His 15 wins tie Washington’s Stephen Strasburg for the National League lead and are the most by a Braves left-hander since Hall of Famer Tom Glavine won 18 in 2002.
“His command of everything, early on especially, was really good,” catcher Tyler Flowers said of Fried’s performance Friday. “The curveball was working for him. The slider was really good. But I think it all started with fastball command.”
Fried struck out two batters in each of the first three innings and in five of the first six. “I got into a really nice rhythm,” he said. His 11 strikeouts matched his career high.
The Braves staked him to a 4-0 lead in the second inning on an RBI single by Dansby Swanson and a three-run homer over the left-field wall by Flowers, his 10th of the season. The four earned runs in the inning against White Sox starter Ivan Nova were as many as he had allowed in his past six starts combined. Flowers became the eighth Braves player with 10 or more homers this season.
Leading 6-1 through six innings, Fried got into trouble in the seventh, when the first three batters reached base.
“I think he started to maybe get a little tired towards the end and maybe started pressing a little bit,” Flowers said. “That’s something he brought up to me after, just trying to find a way to not worry about the stuff, just keep focusing on executing (pitches).”
In the seventh, with one run in, two runners on base and no out, Luke Jackson replaced Fried on the mound.
“I would have loved to have got one more inning out of (Fried),” manager Brian Snitker said. “But it was good. It was another strong outing.
“He’s toeing that rubber expecting to win when he goes out there, and I think that’s a big step forward for him.”
With Fried watching from the dugout, pinch-hitter Welington Castillo drilled a three-run homer to left field on a 1-2 pitch from Jackson, scoring two inherited runners and tightening the game to 6-5. Jackson struck out the other three batters he faced.
The Braves regained some cushion in the bottom of the seventh on three walks and a two-run pinch-hit single by Adeiny Hechavarria. The Braves tacked on two more runs for a 10-5 lead in the eighth, with the inning including Ozzie Albies’ fourth hit of the night and Freddie Freeman’s career-high-matching 109th RBI of the season.
The White Sox scored two runs in the ninth off struggling reliever Anthony Swarzak before closer Mark Melancon struck out the only batter he faced to end the game.
The Braves remained 5-1/2 games ahead of second-place Washington in the National League East.
The Braves-White Sox series continues Saturday night with a pitching matchup of Atlanta’s Dallas Keuchel (5-5, 3.78) vs. Chicago’s Reynaldo Lopez (8-11, 5.08). The starting pitchers for Sunday’s series finale are Julio Teheran (8-8, 3.39) for the Braves and Lucas Giolito (14-7, 3.20) for the Sox.