Fried evokes Shohei with two-way brilliance

Braves starter supports his seven shutout innings with three hits, sparking outburst

July 18th, 2021

ATLANTA --  As the Braves attempt to win without Ronald Acuña Jr., they will lean heavily on sluggers like , and .  

That’s no typo.  Just ask Rays manager Kevin Cash, who became the latest to pay the price for underestimating Fried’s offensive capabilities.  

Fried cruised through seven scoreless innings, notched a career-high three hits and set the tone for what was a much-needed entertaining victory for the Braves. His impressive all-around effort was backed by Freeman and Pederson, who both homered in a 9-0 win over the Rays on Saturday night at Truist Park.

“He might be Shohei Ohtani soon, huh?” Pederson said when asked about Fried’s all-around dominant performance.

Two days after being acquired from the Cubs, Pederson made his first start as Atlanta's new leadoff hitter and right fielder. His two-run homer in the Braves' six-run fourth energized his new fanbase and accounted for his first home run against a left-hander since Sept. 17, 2018.

Freeman also joined the fun when he began the bottom of the fifth with his fourth homer in the past five games. The reigning National League MVP is surging at the right time as the Braves attempt to find success without Acuña, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last weekend.

But as the Braves moved within three games of the first-place Mets in the NL East, the spotlight remained on Fried, who allowed just one more hit (four) than he recorded. He also picked off Wander Franco in the first inning to give him an MLB-best 18 pickoffs since the start of his 2017 debut season.

“It was good to have a nice offensive night, and that was aided by that guy on the mound,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “Max did a great job of allowing us to do that, you know? That's seven really strong innings.”

Fried didn’t allow a baserunner past first, but he cruised right past it when he shocked the Rays with the two-out, two-run double he hit to fuel the fourth-inning eruption. His extra-base hit came after Cash opted to intentionally walk light-hitting catcher Kevan Smith to get to the Braves starter.

"That's a tough call to walk somebody to get to Max,” Snitker said. “That’s guys like [Madison] Bumgarner and [Jacob] deGrom and those guys that can really swing the bat, you probably aren't going to do that because it almost gets them going maybe a little bit. I feel real good anytime Max is up there."

The Rays' costly decision came less than two weeks after Marlins manager Don Mattingly intentionally walked Smith to get to Fried, who responded by delivering a pinch-hit walk-off single.

So before lacing his opposite-field double down the right-field line, was Fried hoping to get a similar opportunity?

"I didn't really have time to think,” Fried said. “I was getting my shin guard on and I didn't even have my batting gloves and hadn't really warmed up. So I didn't really have time to really think. I just tried to get up there and see a pitch and hit it. There wasn't a lot of thought behind it."

Fried is hitting .333 (9-for-27) with a .787 OPS this year. He became the first Braves pitcher to record three hits in a game since Alex Wood did so against the Nationals on May 10, 2015. He’s the first Atlanta pitcher to drive in two runs in a three-hit performance since Terry Mulholland on May 12, 2000.

It wasn’t like Fried’s hits were cheapies. His third-inning single to center came off the bat at 101.9 mph, and his sixth-inning single had a 103.1 mph exit velocity. His looping opposite-field double had just an 87.5 mph exit velo. But it may have been the biggest hit of the night.

“I don't think I ever thought that I would have a three-hit game,” Fried said. “You're lucky enough to get one. If you get two, it’s kind of icing on top.”