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Terrific trio: Fried, Acuña, Riley carry Braves

@mlbbowman
August 5, 2020

ATLANTA -- Max Fried looked like a frontline starter and Austin Riley drilled one of the three homers the Braves tallied while turning the page with a 10-1 win over the Blue Jays on Tuesday night at Truist Park. Distancing themselves from the blow suffered when ace Mike Soroka sustained

ATLANTA -- Max Fried looked like a frontline starter and Austin Riley drilled one of the three homers the Braves tallied while turning the page with a 10-1 win over the Blue Jays on Tuesday night at Truist Park.

Distancing themselves from the blow suffered when ace Mike Soroka sustained a season-ending injury on Monday night, the Braves saw Fried allow four hits and one run over six strong innings. The southpaw received an early lead when Matt Adams and Tyler Flowers hit solo homers against Matt Shoemaker in the second inning.

Box score

Fried has posted a 2.04 ERA through three starts for the Braves, who have won six of their past seven games and eight of the first 12 played this year.

“We needed a strong start,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I’m sure he had some emotions when his buddy went down last night. I’m sure he felt like he needed to step up, and he damn sure did.”

With Soroka out, how do Braves fill spot?

Here are three takeaways from this latest victory.

Stepping up
With Soroka sidelined, Fried becomes the No. 1 starter within a rotation that currently lacks a legit No. 2, No. 3 or No. 4 starter. But as he has limited opponents to a .489 OPS through his first three starts, the 26-year-old southpaw has looked like the front-of-the-rotation asset he was targeted to be after the Padres took him with the seventh overall selection in the 2012 Draft.

“I think he’s getting there,” Flowers said. “He definitely has the makeup to do it. We saw another example today. The weapons he has, he has the ability to get out of tough situations. He’s grown so much in just trusting his delivery.”

Repeating his delivery was Fried’s focus when he exited last year’s 17-win season and while spending the past few months training with high school friend and Cardinals ace Jack Flaherty. The consistency has been seen as Fried has shined in each of his first three starts, but especially the past two, during which he’s allowed just two earned runs in 12 2/3 innings.

This outing also gave Fried confidence, knowing that he has taken that next step to where he is able to deliver when extra pressure is placed upon his shoulders.

“The thing I’ve struggled with the most [in my career] is wanting to do more and not feeling like my best is enough and wanting to do extra,” Fried said. “For me, it’s about staying within myself.”

Exciting surge
Snitker delivered the line of the night when asked about Ronald Acuña Jr. scoring from first base on a Dansby Swanson double in the eighth inning. The All-Star outfielder needed just 11.18 seconds to complete the mad dash, per Statcast.

“I told him today, ‘If I could run like you, I’d sell my car,’” Snitker said.

Fortunately, Acuña has distanced himself from his first-week slump and is once again looking like one of the game’s most exciting players.

He tallied the first of Atlanta’s four runs in the fifth. After lacing a double, he advanced to third on a groundout and then sprinted toward the plate to score on Freddie Freeman’s ground ball to drawn-in shortstop Bo Bichette.

Acuña has gone 7-for-15 with three doubles and a homer over the past four games. The All-Star outfielder had tallied just two extra-base hits while hitting .152 (5-for-33) in eight July games.

“He’s just kind of getting rolling here,” Snitker said. “He’s swinging the bat really well. They’ve been working every day, and it looks like it’s starting to pay off.”

Less trouble with the slider
Riley’s three-run shot highlighted a four-run fifth inning and also showed he may be far less susceptible to breaking balls this year. Both of the homers he’s hit through this season’s first 12 games have come on a slider, a pitch which he hit .143 (8-for-56) against with a .321 slugging percentage last year.

Ten of the 21 pitches Riley saw on Tuesday were sliders. He whiffed against three of them, fouled off another and belted the one Shoemaker left hanging over the left-field wall. Riley’s ability to be disciplined against breaking balls out of the zone will be the key to him avoiding the collapse he experienced after thriving through the first six weeks of his career last year.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.