Fried sharp, Duvall homers as Braves play a little baseball at Truist Park

Credit: AJC

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Braves pitcher Max Fried details his work from the mound during first intrasquad workout of summer camp Tuesday, July 8, 2020. (Courtesy of Atlanta Braves)

Credit: AJC

A fractured, still-fragile season took another little step forward Wednesday, under the heading of: Simulated baseball in July is better than no baseball at all.

Sighted in the afternoon at Truist Park were actual Braves wearing actual game-day stuff playing a form of the sport that had been in quarantine since spring training was quashed March 12 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I kind of got excited putting the whole uniform on. I think (the players) felt it, too,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said.

Watching his young starters Max Fried and Mike Soroka throw three scoreless innings each didn’t hurt the manager’s outlook either.

The Braves went through the choreography of a simulated five innings, the first of any kind of competitive ball in months.

An advance scout named Braeden Schlehuber who was dressed in a blue shirt, padding and tight pants that Joe West could never have fit into called balls and strikes.

Snitker and some of his coaches watched from behind a screen directly behind the catcher.

“I really enjoyed that as much as anything, seeing the action on the pitches,” the manager said. “That was fun to be that close to those guys because I don’t get that. A lot of times I can’t tell what pitches are from the dugout. That was pretty cool for me.”

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There hardly was exact conformity to the letter of baseball law. Both halves of the first inning, for example, ended in a three-out walk – it being more important to get pitchers work than it was to be totally real.

The Braves are trying to hustle into some kind of playing mode given that the delayed season begins in a mere 16 days (both Soroka and Fried threw more than 40 pitches this initial outing). Wednesday was the first of what Snitker hopes will be a series of tightly focused intrasquad contests that will have his team ready when this sprint of a season begins July 24. They will play another simulated game again Thursday – starters Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb get top billing then. By next week, they plan to be playing faux games at night, approximating game conditions as closely as possible.

Snitker clearly was pleased with how it all went Wednesday.

“Everybody who threw, I thought did exactly what we needed. I thought the at-bats were really good. Everybody was into what we were doing. The guys had fun finally playing a baseball game again. The whole day exceeding my expectations,” he said.

Whatever form the game took, it was like manna to the starving.

“I feel great, ready to go. I’ve been kind of been chomping at the bit. I didn’t realize how much I missed competition,” Fried said.

Fried was the sharpest of the two young starters, facing 13 hitters, striking out four and walking one. The work he put in while back in southern California during baseball’s shutdown – working out with Braves nemesis, St. Louis starter Jack Flaherty – was obvious.

“I’m happy with where I’m at right now,” Fried said. “I’ve been working really hard this quarantine as far as my delivery, just trying to fine-tune things. I threw a number of live (batting practices) before I came out, I had seen swings on my pitches. I feel ready and am excited to get this thing going.”

Take from this first peek whatever you choose, the manager won’t argue.

“Don’t read anything into what you see in these games,” Snitker warned. “We had a catcher playing center field (Alex Jackson), and he actually made a really nice play.” While that catcher manned center, Ronald Acuna was stationed in right, so we’ll dare to read into that where the Braves believe he belongs.

As for highlight makers Wednesday in a game that probably meant more emotionally than practically, add two other names:

Adam Duvall, whose two-run home run to center field off Josh Tomlin supplied the only runs of the scrimmage. Given Nick Markakis’ decision to opt out of this season, all noise from other outfielders/bench bats is most welcome. As he trotted back to the dugout, Duvall also practiced his contactless celebration.

And second baseman Ozzie Albies, who despite this not being exactly a full-speed exercise couldn’t seem to help himself from laying out in an unsuccessful pursuit of a shallow fly ball and aggressively running the bases.

“Like I tell everybody, if you play the game the way Ozzie does, you’re going to play it right,” Snitker said.

“He’s a baseball player who loves to play, like they all do,” he added. “That’s why what we saw out there today was a group of guys who were focused, concentrating on their game.

“It was a good day today.”