Injuries haven’t slowed Braves, but Fried’s will be hard to overcome

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

The Braves finally got their full lineup back on Tuesday, so of course lefty Max Fried went to the injured list on the same day. The Braves keep winning despite key players missing significant time with injuries. But their starting pitching has lagged the hitting and the bullpen and now the staff ace is on the shelf for a while.

The time is to be determined. Fried said he won’t come back until he’s confident there will be no more issues with the strain in his left forearm.

“Caught it before it really got bad,” Fried said.

That’s relatively good news under the circumstances. It comes at a bad time for the Braves. They’ve beat up on struggling teams while compiling the NL’s best record and run differential. Now the Braves will face good-hitting AL teams over the next two weeks without Fried.

The Red Sox are in town for a two-game series. They rank third among MLB teams in runs scored before Tuesday’s games. The Braves beat Boston 9-3 and will go for the sweep on Wednesday. Next up are the Blue Jays (ninth in runs scored), Rangers (second), Mariners (21st) and Dodgers (fourth).

Fried would have started against the Red Sox, Rangers and Dodgers. He’s certain to miss more than the minimum two weeks. He’s got to allow his forearm to heal, then go through the process of building his arm back up. Fried is the only Braves starter without a bad outing, save for his last game before going on the IL.

His absence will put further strain on Atlanta’s thin rotation, which lost right-hander Kyle Wright (shoulder) two days before Fried was shut down. There are no appealing options at Triple-A Gwinnett to replace those two.

Rookie Dylan Dodd allowed 18 hits, including three homers, in his past two starts for the Braves. Jared Shuster’s bid to join the rotation at the start of the season ended after two starts with eight earned runs and nine walks over 8 2/3 innings. I’d love to see Michael Soroka make a comeback, but he hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2020.

Braves starters rank seventh in MLB with 3.4 Wins Above Replacement (FanGraphs). Most of that weight has been carried by Spencer Strider (1.6 WAR), Bryce Elder (0.7 WAR) and Fried (0.6 WAR over five starts, with one cut short by injury). Charlie Morton is having a bounce back year — he’s got a 3.32 ERA after holding the Red Sox to two runs over six innings — but his underlying numbers suggest he’s had fortunate results.

Any slippage by Morton, Strider or Elder would put the Braves in a bad position.

“They just need to do their thing and do what they can control and not worry about the rest,” manager Brian Snitker said. “We’ll worry about all that. They just need to worry about what they are doing and not do something different than what they have been, because what they’ve been doing has been really, really good.”

Braves 9, Red Sox 3

The Braves have been resilient so far. According to The Man-Games Lost database, they’d lost 276 games because of injury as of the end of last week. The Yankees (318) and Dodgers (299) lead the league in games lost. Not all injuries are equal, though. The Braves have been without their top pitcher, the only effective shortstop, the center fielder, the best reliever and only productive designated hitter.

Fried has been on the IL twice (he was out for 16 days in April with a hamstring injury). Center fielder Michael Harris missed three weeks with a bad back. Closer Raisel Iglesias’s shoulder injury sidelined him for five weeks. Shortstop Orlando Arcia (wrist) was out for three-plus weeks. Catcher/DH Travis d’Arnaud was activated on Tuesday after missing a month because of a concussion.

“There’s always obstacles,” Snitker said. “You plan, you huddle up and see what’s the best possible way forward to make it work, the best we can.”

It’s Snitker’s way to shrug off the latest setback and focus on moving forward. It’s a big reason why the Braves have won five straight NL East titles. The manager stays even-keeled, general manager Alex Anthopoulos makes depth moves and the Braves grind out victories.

The expectation is that the Braves will keep doing that even with Fried sidelined. It helps that the rest of division is struggling. The Mets, Marlins, Phillies and Nationals all have losing records. The Braves have 39 games left against those teams. They’ll also face five of MLB’s worst teams a total of 16 more times: the Royals, White Sox, Rockies, Reds and Cardinals.

The Braves ranked sixth in MLB in runs scored even with good hitters sitting out. Braves relievers rank fifth in Wins Above Replacement (FanGraphs) even though Iglesias has pitched only two innings. Now we’ll see if their starting pitching holds up with Fried on the IL.