Bradley’s Buzz: Max Fried has it going again. He soon could be gone

110221 HOUSTON: Braves starting and winning pitcher Max Fried falls after colliding with Astros Michael Brantley while fielding at first base in game 6 of the World Series on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021, in Houston.   “Curtis Compton /”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

110221 HOUSTON: Braves starting and winning pitcher Max Fried falls after colliding with Astros Michael Brantley while fielding at first base in game 6 of the World Series on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021, in Houston. “Curtis Compton /”

In another era, Max Fried might – granted, it’s a massive “might” – be sitting on two no-hitters in one year. That has happened five times in baseball annals, six if you count Roy Halladay in 2010, wherein he worked a regular-season perfect game and the sport’s second postseason no-hitter. As is, Fried can content himself with two quality starts of the highest quality – six-plus innings, zero hits.

His season hadn’t – that’s an emphatic “hadn’t” – begun well. He retired two batters in his first start; he yielded seven earned runs in the second. That’s not what anyone, Fried least of all, had in mind for the biggest year of his professional life. Come November, he can and surely will become a free agent.

Fried has done some splendid stuff. Twice he has finished among the top five in Cy Young voting. He was an All-Star in 2022. He has three Gold Gloves and, back in those ancient days when pitchers got to hit, a Silver Slugger. In 2021, he was among the biggest reasons an 88-win team won the World Series.

He started Game 2 of the NLDS in Milwaukee, the Braves having lost Game 1 of the best-of-five. He worked six shutout innings; the Braves won 3-0. He started Game 1 of the NLCS against the 106-win Dodgers. He exited after six innings of a 2-2 game; the Braves won in the bottom of the ninth.

Come Game 6 of the World Series, the Braves had Fried working on full rest. Astros starter Luis Garcia was not. And yet: Jose Altuve led off with an infield single. Michael Brantley sent a grounder to Freddie Freeman, who threw to a covering Fried, whose foot never touched first base, Brantley having clomped on his right ankle.

Seven nights earlier in this same ballpark, Yuli Gurriel lined a ball off Game 1 starter Charlie Morton’s leg. Morton stuck around for another 16 pitchers, after which it was – finally! – determined he had a broken fibula. To us press box orthopedists, what befell Fried appeared worse than what happened with Morton. Why do terrible things happen to Atlanta teams in Houston?

This, though, was what Fried did. He winced. He walked back to the mound. He went back to work. He became the second Atlanta Braves pitcher to win a World Series clincher.

He struck out Carlos Correa, induced a groundout from Jordan Alvarez and struck out Gurriel. When Fried exited after six scoreless innings, the Braves led 7-0. Had Fried never thrown another pitch for this franchise, his place in Braves Valhalla was secure.

He has thrown many more pitches. He was an All-Star in 2022. Injuries compromised last season, though, and a tepid exhibition season and the first two starts of 2024 made us wonder. We wonder no more.

Fried’s past seven starts: 40-1/3 innings, eight earned runs, 18 hits, 13 walks, 31 strikeouts, an ERA of 1.78. Included were a complete-game shutout of Miami, six no-hit innings in Seattle and seven no-hit innings against the Mets. That’ll do.

At his best, Fried is a No. 1 starter. Any team in need of a starting pitcher, which is every team, will want him. Maybe the Braves will keep him, but we saw with Freeman and Dansby Swanson what happens when a major talent hits the market. The team that has been paying such a player has a fairly good idea of his value. Any team wanting to lure him away must exceed that amount. Invariably, some team does.

With Freeman and Swanson, the Braves chose not to match price – both in terms of money and contractual years – for two players who play every day. The bidding for starting pitchers, who work every fifth day, is even more heated. Were Alex Anthopoulos inclined to say, “Look, he’s Max Fried – we are NOT letting him walk away,” these dates might serve as a reality check.

Dec. 2, 2022: The Rangers sign Jacob deGrom for $185 million over five seasons.

June 18, 2023: deGrom undergoes season-ending elbow surgery.

Nov. 1, 2023: The Rangers win the World Series.

The Braves of Anthopoulos have handed many youngish non-pitchers long-term contracts. The only pitcher these Braves have granted such a deal is Spencer Strider, who just underwent elbow surgery and won’t pitch again until 2025. We say again: Pitchers are different.

Fried has authored some of the finest pitching moments this franchise has known, which is saying something. He’s 30, which isn’t quite youngish but isn’t old. In a perfect world, he and the Braves would never part. Fried is, however, a pitcher. I’d be stunned if he stays.

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