Adonis Garcia had been a non-factor for the Braves since tearing a thumb ligament and having surgery in June. However, the former starting third baseman delivered the biggest blow Sunday when they snapped a six-game skid and won the final game of their disappointing season.
Garcia’s three-run, pinch-hit homer with two out in the seventh inning sent the Braves to an 8-5 win against Miami as they avoided being swept in the four-game season-ending series at Marlins Park and finished with a 72-90 record.
“It’s good because we’ve kind of been struggling, obviously,” said Braves manager Brian Snitker, whose job status has become an ever-increasing subject of gloomy speculation. “Played a real solid ballgame, lot of good things happened.”
Left-hander Max Fried, one of four Braves rookie pitchers who started games in the past five days, was better than his line indicated. He showed enough to give the team and fans reason to believe the slender, curveball-slinging Californian could be a impactful performer in 2018, much as Luiz Gohara did two nights before.
Fried had a career-high seven strikeouts with one walk, and struck out five consecutive batters before Giancarlo Stanton’s two-out single in the third inning, the first hit for the Marlins. He was charged with six hits and four runs (two earned) in 4-1/3 innings, all the runs coming in the fifth.
“One thing I made sure coming into this was to try to have as much fun as possible, and just to go out there and give them hell,” Fried said. “I feel like I accomplished that.”
The Marlins turned a three-run deficit into a 4-3 lead in the fifth by opening the inning with three consecutive singles and capitalizing on a throwing error by shortstop Dansby Swanson.
“I thought (Fried) pitched well, he was letting it go a little bit today,” said Braves catcher Kurt Suzuki, who extended his career-best home run total to 19 with a two-run shot in the third inning off 14-game winner Jose Urena. “The stuff’s there. The demeanor on the mound’s there; (Fried) attacks guys. Very talented. He’s got a lot of positives, for sure.”
The Braves built a 3-0 lead in the third when rookie Ozzie Albies doubled, Suzuki homered and Freddie Freeman tripled and scored on a Nick Markakis ground-out.
Instead of losing after blowing a big early lead, as they did Friday in Gohara’s start, Braves hitters got Fried off the hook by coming back to win. That helped lift the postgame clubhouse mood after an eight-game trip that began with a win in the first game of a doubleheader and was followed by six consecutive losses.
The Braves tied the score at 4-4 in the sixth when Swanson hit a leadoff single and Albies drove him in with a ground-out following a Jace Peterson walk and Micah Johnson sacrifice bunt. Then they pulled away for good in the seventh on three singles — including Swanson’s run-scoring hit — followed by Garcia’s big homer.
Garcia missed three months and lost his starting job, and since returning Sept. 4 he was 2-for-18 with one walk in 13 games before Sunday, including just three starts (two at third base, one in left field).
“It wasn’t fair to him, because when he came back he didn’t have enough time to get ready,” Snitker said. “I mean, he missed so much. But we all know he can hit. He’s fearless and that (homer) was big here in this game.”
Garcia had one hit in his last 16 at-bats when he strode to the plate with two runners on base and two out in the seventh inning to face Justin Nicolino, who had just entered after the Braves regained a 5-4 lead on Swanson’s RBI single off Junichi Tazawa, the third hit allowed by Tazawa in a five-batter span to start the inning.
Garcia took a called first-pitch strike and two balls before unloading on a hanging change-up Tazawa left over the plate. He hit it far, the ball banging off a garish pop-art sculpture that rises beyond the fence in left-center field, Garcia’s fifth home run of the season, first as a pinch-hitter this season and second in 25 career pinch-hit plate appearances.
The Braves suddenly had a four-run lead, enough to easily withstand a Marcell Ozuna solo homer off beleaguered reliever Jim Johnson in the seventh inning.
As for Fried, he’ll go to the offseason knowing that his stuff, particularly his curveball, is good enough not just to survive but thrive in the big leagues. He had a two-hit shutout until the fifth inning, when the Marlins opened the inning with three straight singles — two on ground balls — followed by two potential ground-outs, with Swanson misfiring on a throw to second base on the second of those would-be outs to allow a run to score and the batter to reach third base.
The final run charged to Fried scored on J.T. Realmuto’s ground-out against reliever Jason Motte.
“I was a little unfortunate in that fifth, some ground balls just happened to find holes,” Fried said. “I can’t really control that. Seemed like they’ve been hitting the ball and it’s been finding holes (a lot in the series).”
Fried got no decision in his fourth start and ninth career appearances. As a starter, he went 1-1 with a 3.44 ERA, allowing eleven runs but only seven earned in 18-1/3 innings, with 16 strikeouts and six walks.
He finishes his first major league season with a 3.81 ERA in nine games and plenty of confidence before he heads off to the Arizona Fall League.
“I think it’s been a complete success,” he said of his time in the big leagues. “I feel like I can pitch here, I belong. ... I just wanted to make the most of my opportunities up here, show what I can do, and carry this over into the fall league and build off that, come into spring training ready.”
Spring training promises to be highly competitive among young Braves starting pitchers including Gohara, Fried, Sean Newcomb and Lucas Sims, all of whom made their major league debuts this season, and perhaps a few others on the way.
“Of course, but you wouldn’t want to have it any other way,” Fried said. “Good teams all have competition coming into camp, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Suzuki said of the rookie pitchers, “They’ve got enough to be up here and have a nice, long career. They’ve just got to go out there and make adjustments and be consistent, got to keep getting better. The game will make adjustments to you and you’ve got to keep making adjustments to the game. They’re smart kids. They work hard, they’re smart – they’ll figure it out.”