Max Fried becomes MLB’s early ERA leader

The Braves lefty used a phenomenal spring to work his way into the rotation plans. Since a pair of relief appearances, he’s been the team’s best pitcher through four starts. As such, his 1.38 ERA ranks No. 1 among qualified major-league starters after Pittsburgh’s Joe Musgrove allowed three runs in six innings Monday.

Fried’s latest showing was on “Sunday Night Baseball” before a national audience. Buster Olney, ESPN’s baseball guru, chimed in with a tweet that resonated in Braves country: “Some rival evaluators watched Max Fried’s performance Sunday night and were extremely impressed; see him as a frontline talent, No. 1/No. 2 type starter.”

High praise for the 25-year-old Fried, who’s spent much of his career bouncing between the majors and minors, rotation and bullpen, and the injured list with mysterious blisters. Thus far, 2019 seems like the season he puts it together.

“He knows he’s good now,” catcher Tyler Flowers said. “I think everyone questions that early on in their careers. I think he really believes it now and he knows it. He has a better understanding of what he needs to do in his outings. Before, I think he was a little unsure if his curveball was going to play, if these guys can hit it, if he can get a fastball by someone. He understands how those things can work together.”

It began in spring, when Fried produced a 2.08 ERA in six games. He struck out 18 and walked six. In a six-week span of healthy competition, Fried stood out. He was rewarded with a roster spot and an early crack at starting.

Safe to say, Fried won’t be jettisoned to the minors or bullpen anytime soon. He’s allowed four runs in his 26 innings this season – two of which could’ve been avoided if a ball stays in Ender Inciarte’s glove, and another of which was a stranded runner who scored. Francisco Lindor’s homer Sunday was the irrefutable damage.

“It’s rare (to see a young player with such consistency),” third baseman Josh Donaldson said. “For a young guy to have the kind of stuff that he has, to go out there and trust it and not get too far ahead of himself in the moment, that’s a big, big step in the right direction.”

The Braves wanted at least one of their young starters to blossom. Their decision not to add a starter from the outside was a bet that would unfold. Fried has jumped to the front of the pack.

“Strike one is big for him, consistency with the breaking ball, locating the fastball up and down,” Flowers said. “Especially with the breaking ball he has. To build and establish velocity towards the top of the zone, it really makes them have to respect that, along with the curveball. It’s hard to hit those two pitches at their differential speeds.”

Tampa Bay’s Tyler Glasnow leads the American League with a 1.53 ERA. Cincinnati’s Luis Castillo is second in the National League with a 1.47 mark. 

Fried makes his next start Friday at home against the Rockies. He faced them in Denver earlier this month, allowing one unearned run in six innings.

“He’s ready,” catcher Brian McCann said. “He’s got all the ingredients to be a great starter in this league for a long time.”

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