Max Fried made consecutive starts a couple of times in the final month of the 2017 season and impressed for the most part, including a memorable win against the Cubs at Wrigley Field in his first start.
Now the Braves rookie has a chance to take the next step, to prove he’s ready to become a regular in the starting rotation for the National League East leaders.
After the left-hander’s impressive 11-strikeout game Saturday at St. Louis, Fried gets another start Thursday at Milwaukee in a series opener against Brewers, the only NL team with a better record (50-35) than the Braves (49-35) before Wednesday.
While it had been expected, the Braves didn’t make it official until Wednesday, when they announced scheduled starters for the Brewers series. Fried was asked about being able to go through a normal routine between starts since Saturday, rather than moving from the bullpen or being brought from Triple-A for a spot start.
“I’ve gotten to the point where I kind of feel comfortable being uncomfortable,” the 24-year-old Californian said, smiling. “No, but it’ll be nice to feel like I’ve had good preparation days in-between. I’m ready to go.”
Fried and the Braves are in a vastly different situation than they were in September, when he was new to the majors and the Braves were playing out the schedule, mired in third place in the division and more than 20 games behind Washington. They entered Wednesday with a lead of 2-1/2 games over the second-place Phillies and seven games ahead of the slumping Nationals.
“You feel the importance of each game, playing hard every single game,” Fried said. “My role is just to come in and try to keep the train going. Just try to fit in as best as possible and do my part, try to keep this thing going and give us the best chance to win.”
He did that Saturday at St. Louis in the middle game of a three-game Braves sweep of the Cardinals that began a 10-game, three-city trip. Fried allowed four hits, no runs and three walks in a career-high 6-2/3 innings. He had allowed just one earned run three times in his previous five major league starts, but Saturday’s game was his first scoreless outing as a big-league starter, and his 101 pitches were 18 more than his previous high.
For the first time, Fried wasn’t on a tighter-than-usual pitch limit, having been fully stretched out as a starter at Triple-A before he was recalled.
“It was nice to go out there knowing I didn’t really have any kind of restrictions,” Fried said. “I just tried to treat it like any other start. … For me it was just trusting the game plan that me and (veteran catcher) Kurt (Suzuki) went over beforehand and really just trying to execute pitches.”
Fried, a first-round draft pick in 2012 with the Padres, has his career back on track now, nearly four years removed from Tommy John elbow surgery and having figured out how to avoid blister problems that slowed him last season in Double-A. He has a 3.30 ERA in 15 major league games over two seasons, and in six starts he’s 2-1 with a 2.40 ERA, 33 strikeouts, 13 walks and two home runs allowed in 30 innings.
He’s 1-0 with a 0.77 ERA and .205 opponents’ average in two starts a month apart this season, allowing just one earned run, eight hits and seven walks with 17 strikeouts in 11-2/3 innings.
Now, Fried gets to show what he can do against a first-place team while pitching on a regular starter’s routine and with the benefit of some major league experience.
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