CHICAGO – They played together on travel-ball teams in greater Los Angeles beginning at age 14, and nine years later those memories came flooding back for Braves rookies Max Fried and Rio Ruiz on a Sunday afternoon when both made big contributions to a win against the defending World Series champion Cubs at sold-out Wrigley Field.
Fried pitched five innings of one-run ball while third baseman Ruiz had two hits and a career-high three RBIs and also made a smooth play to start an important 5-6-3 in the fourth inning of the Braves’ 5-1 win.
“I was more excited personally for Max, because I’ve seen him since I was 14,” said Ruiz, who had an RBI single in the fourth inning and a two-run double in the ninth. “To see his first start and play behind him, it was pretty special.”
Fried allowed four hits, one run and three walks with four strikeouts in his longest start since going 5 1/3 innings on June 17 when he was still in Double-A, before a couple of finger blisters landed him on the disabled list and threatened to quash his hopes of pitching in the major leagues this season.
He got that situation under control, and impressed enough in five subsequent minor league starts and four big-league relief appearances for the Braves to give him his first start Sunday when they needed someone after a doubleheader Wednesday at Philadelphia disrupted the regular rotation.
Ruiz rose to the occasion, facing four or fewer batters in each of his first four innings and getting out of a bases-loaded jam unscathed in the fifth inning to preserve a 3-1 lead. The baby-faced lefty showed off his outstanding curveball and also mixed in change-up with 90-91 mph fastballs.
A reporter asked Ruiz if he was impressed that Fried’s curveball was about as effective against major leaguers as it had been in the minors.
“I mean, I’ve been impressed since I was 14,” Ruiz said. “It hasn’t changed, it’s always been that devastating. I’m just glad I don’t have to face him anytime soon.”
Four relievers held the Cubs to one hit over the final four scoreless innings and Ruiz had a two-run double in the ninth to provide more of a cushion.
“Even if we didn’t get those two wins I think the bullpen would have shut it down regardless,” Ruiz said. “It’s always good to add on runs late in the game especially, make it a little less stressful.”
The Braves led 3-1 when the Cubs’ Kris Bryant drew a leadoff walk in the fourth inning, raising the anticipation level in a packed house that was ready for the seemingly inevitable big hit the Cubs have been getting lately. Anthony Rizzo stepped in and hit a sharp grounder to the left side, and Ruiz made a slick play to start a 5-6-3 double play.
“I couldn’t be happier for Rio,” Fried said. “I knew that when Rizzo hit the chopper to him that he was going to make the play. Helped me out big time. I’ve known Rio -- he’s been an unbelievable player since I was 14, watching him, so it’s really nice being out there and having somebody comfortable to be able to share this experience with.”
Rookies Ruiz, Dansby Swanson (2-for-3, double, walk, RBI) and Ozzie Albies had five of the Braves’ eight hits and four of the team’s five RBIs, and the Braves’ young players impressed Cubs manager Joe Maddon throughout the series.
“It’s nice to be a part of, plain and simple,” said Ruiz, who has gone 5-for-11 with a double, a home run and four RBIs in three games since being recalled from Triple-A after the Braves traded Brandon Phillips. “But we’ve just got to continue going. This was a good series for a lot of the rookies, and we’ve just got to look forward to the next series at home.”
Fried got his first major league win one week after his friend and former high school classmate Lucas Giolito got his first major league win with the White Sox. Giolito got his second win Sunday in his seventh big-league start and third this season, allowing just three hits, one run and one walk with 10 strikeouts in seven innings against Tampa Bay on Chicago’s South Side while Fried was doing his thing on the city’s North Side.
“I checked in on him because I knew he was throwing today, too,” Fried said. “He threw the ball really well, seven innings of one earned (run) baseball. So I’m really, really happy for him.”
Fried and Giolito were first-round draft picks in 2012 out of Harvard-Westlake High School in Los Angeles, Fried the seventh overall pick and Giolito the 16th. Ruiz was a fourth-round pick that same year out of Bishop Amat High School in Los Angeles County, where he was a two-sport star in football and baseball. Fried had to transfer to a new school after his junior year when his former high school dropped athletics, and Ruiz tried to get him to go to Bishop Amat, but he opted for Harvard-Westlake.
“Him and his good friend Lucas Giolito, I call them both the biggest geeks in the world,” Ruiz said, smiling. “You never know if they’re nervous, you never know if they’re scared or anything. I mean, they’re so composed. And today (Fried) showed that. Everybody else saw what he’s capable of doing.”