With each Max Fried start comes the same narrative: The Braves’ lefty is blossoming into the franchise’s long-awaited internally grown ace. But Wednesday was more than just another development in that trend.
It was Fried’s chance to stick it to those who traded him.
Behind another brilliant seven innings from their 25-year-old stud, the Braves topped the Padres 5-1. Fried struck out seven and walked none, throwing an efficient 85 pitches before being lifted for a pinch-hitter.
“I was a little juiced up there in the first,” Fried said of facing his former organization. “But after that ball (Hunter Renfroe hit) went to the warning track, I settled myself down. I said now I just have to pitch and win this game.”
Fried’s curveball exasperated Padres hitters, while the complementary slider continues coming along as a strike pitch. His command remains commendable, and the lefty has walked just seven in 38-1/3 innings.
In a 2-1 game, Braves manager Brian Snitker was tasked with a decision in the bottom of the seventh. His team had a runner on third with one out, Fried set to bat. Snitker elected to lift Fried for Ronald Acuna, whose single plated the third run. Dansby Swanson later homered, further validating Snitker’s call.
“He went seven innings,” Snitker said. “He had pitches (left). If it was 5-1, I probably would’ve left him in. But in a game like that where runs are at a premium, I just feel like you have to keep trying to score. He did his job. The kid goes out and does seven innings, he’s done his job.”
During his latest recital, Fried actually had to overcome another finger issue. He had a cut on the top of his pinky, which he dealt with in spring training. Snitker downplayed its severity, as did the player, referring to it more as an annoyance rather than actual concern.
“Just a cut on the top of my finger, same one as spring training,” Fried said. “Just stopped the bleeding and it was all good. No problems.”
It didn’t seem like much of a distraction. Fried controlled the contest from pitch No. 1. His seemingly effortless delivery was on full display. He made one mistake — which Manny Machado put in the seats — on an evening that reminds us why he’s become must-see every fifth day.
The Padres boast enviable pitching depth. Like the Braves, they committed to a complete retool. They’re stacking high-upside arms — including Wednesday’s starter Cal Quantrill, who made his MLB debut — and supplemented their core with Machado, the franchise’s biggest free-agent signing.
But missing from that crowded cupboard: Fried. San Diego took the Los Angeles native seventh overall in 2012. In 2014, they dealt him to the Braves for a Justin Upton rental. It was somewhat a defensible move for San Diego, an organization starved for success that saw a window of opportunity, though in hindsight it appears foolish.
Their window never really opened. The Padres pivoted to a complete teardown after their attempt at an all-in strategy quickly went sour.
Yet for a while, it seemed the Padres weren’t missing out. Fried debuted in the summer of 2017, straight from Double-A Mississippi, but couldn’t established himself as a major leaguer. He was stalled by blisters. He never stuck in the rotation or bullpen. The Braves ushered in another plethora of pitchers, making Fried’s place less clear.
Since the start of spring training, his place has been solidified. He earned his role. Fried, at this time, is the Braves’ best pitcher. It’s finally come together for California’s native son.
“He’s fun to watch,” said Braves teammate Charlie Culberson, who made his first start of the season Wednesday. “He’s electric. He’s so easy and his mechanics are pretty smooth. I enjoy watching him pitch and playing behind him. He’s fun. Hopefully he’s here for a while.”
Fried’s next start? He’s lined up to pitch the opener at Dodger Stadium, the sanctuary in which he grew up. The place his idol, Sandy Koufax, painted so many of his masterpieces.
Next time out, at that very venue, Fried will have the chance to create his own.
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