Fried (left forearm strain) heads to IL; rotation questions abound

May 9th, 2023

ATLANTA -- Max Fried is back on the injured list with an ailment that will sideline him much longer than the groin strain he suffered on Opening Day.

Fried was placed on the 15-day injured list Tuesday with a left forearm strain, and Atlanta recalled lefty Danny Young from Triple-A Gwinnett. It’s too early to know how long Fried will be out of the Braves’ rotation. But because he will be shut down from throwing for at least a couple weeks, he will need at least a month to build himself up after he is cleared to begin throwing again.

"We're not trying to put any timelines on anything," Fried said. "The priority is to get back, get healthy and make sure this doesn't happen again. We took imaging and everything structurally looks really good. So that was very encouraging."

The Braves aren't ready to project when Fried might return. But early July seems to be an optimistic projection.

Fried informed the Braves' medical staff on Saturday that his left forearm didn't feel right toward the end of his Friday night start against the Orioles. This led to a Monday afternoon MRI exam, which quieted concerns about the discomfort being a potential precursor to Tommy John surgery, a procedure Fried underwent when he was a 20-year-old Padres prospect in 2014.

"It was relieving to know it wasn't serious and we caught it before it got really bad," Fried said. "The objective now is to get as strong as possible and have a really good foundation, so that when I do come back, I won't have any issues."

The Braves own the National League’s best record and they are finally healthy from a position-player standpoint. But their injured list now includes both Fried, who finished second in last year’s NL Cy Young Award balloting, and Kyle Wright, who was MLB’s only 20-game winner last year.

"There's always challenges and it's never easy," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "You just huddle up and figure out the best possible way to make it work going forward."

Fried allowed seven runs (five earned) on eight hits over six-plus innings vs. the Orioles on Friday. The Gold Glove Award winner also committed two errors. He entered the game having allowed just one run and 14 hits through his first 20 innings of the season. But he didn’t indicate any physical ailments during his postgame interview.

So there was no initial indication of concern for Fried, who touched 94.4 mph with his final fastball during Friday's game. His season average entering the outing was 93.7 mph. The veteran left-hander also matched a career high by inducing 20 swings and misses on the night. But his arm started to feel odd as he retired just one of five batters faced in the seventh.

Wright is sidelined with right shoulder inflammation. Like Fried, he will need at least a month to build himself back up once he is cleared to resume throwing.

"I know how important it is to go out there and win ballgames," Fried said. "It's really tough, because I want to be out there. I want to pitch. It's what I love to do. I love competing with these guys every day. But if I keep pushing it and it's long term, then it's not good for the team."

The Braves currently have Spencer Strider, Charlie Morton and Bryce Elder in their starting rotation. Jared Shuster, Dylan Dodd and Michael Soroka are the candidates to be brought up from Triple-A Gwinnett to fill the rotation’s two vacancies.

Shuster could be used to start Wednesday’s game against the Red Sox. Strider, Elder and Morton could make starts during this weekend’s series in Toronto. Or the Braves could push Morton back a day to prevent having to start any combination of Shuster/Dodd/Soroka in the first two games of next week’s road series against the Rangers.

Soroka is bidding to return to the Majors for the first time since he first tore his right Achilles tendon on Aug. 3, 2020. He tore the same tendon 10 months later. He has a 5.23 ERA through his first five starts for Gwinnett, but he has allowed 17 hits -- but just three extra-base hits (all doubles) -- while totaling just seven innings over his past two starts.

Dodd has allowed three runs or less in two of the three starts made for Atlanta this year. He limited the Marlins to three runs over six innings on Thursday.

Shuster, who ranks as the Braves’ top prospect per MLB Pipeline, made Atlanta’s Opening Day roster, but posted a 8.31 ERA in two starts before being sent to Gwinnett. He threw six scoreless and hitless innings against Charlotte on Friday.