The Braves’ attention will soon shift toward assembling their postseason roster. But the last week won’t inspire confidence in up-and-down left-hander Max Fried, whose breakthrough has reached a sudden halt.
Fried lasted just 2-1/3 innings in a 7-0 loss Sunday. It spared the Nationals a sweep and helped prevent the Braves from cutting their magic number in half.
“It was just one of those days,” manager Brian Snitker said. “(Fried) was trying like hell to make everything happen and it just wasn’t happening for him. We just cut our losses there and he’ll do it again the next time. I don’t think it was anything particular. Just one of those days.”
Following an emotional game Saturday, in which the Braves saw beloved teammate Charlie Culberson injured and score nine runs afterward, the offense was shut down by Anibal Sanchez. The Nationals bats simultaneously teed off on Fried, who gave up two runs in the second and three runs in the third.
“A lot of 1-0 counts, not a lot of first-pitch strikes,” Fried said. “Fastball command wasn’t nearly as good today. I was having some difficulty getting the ball over the plate and they were working the count.”
Yan Gomes singled off a Fried curveball to plate the Nationals’ first two runs. In the next frame, Fried allowed three singles and walked a pair, exiting with the bases loaded in a four-run hole. Reliever Jeremy Walker walked in another run before drawing the inning-ending double play.
The 25-year-old Fried has been topsy-turvy since mid-August. Since that time, he allowed four runs across two starts (Aug. 13, 18) before permitting nine over his next two (Aug. 24, 30). September began swimmingly, with Fried tossing seven scoreless frames against these Nationals.
His last two outings: 7-1/3 combined innings, 13 hits, 10 earned runs, seven strikeouts and four walks. Both starts were road games against the Phillies and Nationals, two teams battling for postseason berths.
“It’s the ups and downs of the season for me,” Fried said. “Going into it preparing for every start the same. It’s just about making those in-game adjustments before it’s too late. Today felt like I was trying to do a little too much again and it bit me in the butt.”
Fried wasn’t locating well Sunday, obviously, and pointed out inconsistent fastball command. He coaxed just six swing-and-misses on 65 pitches, his slider – which has been key in the past – generating just one of those whiffs.
It’d be easy to point to Fried’s career-high workload as a reason for his late struggles, but he and Snitker insist that isn’t the case. Fried’s velocity has remained up, even later in his starts, so there’s no evidence he’s going through anything physically anyway.
“I don’t think he’s tired at all,” Snitker said. “It’s just something he’s going through. He was really, really good to be where he’s at. You can point to things if you want but everybody’s tired. It’s the middle of September. We’ve been doing this since February. But shoot, I see him and (Mike) Soroka, innings aren’t a problem. It’s just one of those days.”
The Braves are off Monday before beginning their last homestand of the season. They’ll wrap up their season series with the Phillies starting Tuesday and finish their home slate with the Giants next weekend.
Sometime during the homestand, the Braves will likely clinch the National League East. Their magic number is four. Each Braves’ win or Nationals’ loss cuts that number by one. Because of Monday’s off day, the earliest the Braves could clinch the East is Wednesday.
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