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Max power: Baby Brave baffles Cubs

@mlbbowman
April 5, 2019

ATLANTA -- When the Braves pushed Max Fried to a relief role in September, they unlocked an aggression level that has allowed the young left-hander to realize the tremendous potential he displayed in near-perfect fashion during Thursday night’s 9-4 win over the Cubs at SunTrust Park. “I’m not going to

ATLANTA -- When the Braves pushed Max Fried to a relief role in September, they unlocked an aggression level that has allowed the young left-hander to realize the tremendous potential he displayed in near-perfect fashion during Thursday night’s 9-4 win over the Cubs at SunTrust Park.

“I’m not going to lie, going to the bullpen is something that helped me a lot with my mentality,” Fried said. “It helped me go after guys. It was like I said, ‘Here’s my stuff, hit it if you can.’ I’m going to try to adapt that to my starting routine too.”

Making his first start in more than two weeks, Fried went longer and stronger than expected. The 25-year-old southpaw routinely spotted his livelier fastball, which made his plus curveball even more effective against the Cubs, who did not produce their first baserunner until Mark Zagunis lined a 1-2 changeup to center field for a two-out single in the sixth.

Nick Markakis helped the Braves complete the three-game sweep with a career-high five-hit game that included a three-run double in the fifth and a two-run double in the eighth. But the veteran outfielder quickly acknowledged the story of the night was Fried, who surrendered just the one hit over six scoreless innings. Just three of the 19 batters he faced hit a ball to the outfield.

“There’s almost a different look in his eyes this year,” Markakis said. “He worked well back there tonight with [catcher Brian McCann]. He was locating and had good pitch selection. It was just a fun game to watch and be a part of.”

Aware that Fried had not completed more than two innings since tossing five scoreless against the Nationals way back on March 19, Braves manager Brian Snitker was not going to push his young hurler beyond the sixth regardless of whether or not the no-hitter or perfect game were still attainable.

“He wasn’t built up enough to throw a nine-inning no-hitter,” Snitker said. “A couple more starts, he might be.”

Before the game started, Snitker responded to a question about a fitting role by saying he thought Fried could be effective in the rotation or the bullpen. Excitement about his capabilities as a reliever grew late last season when he showed increased velocity after being moved to the bullpen.

But as Fried’s four-seamer averaged 94.4 mph and touched 97.2 mph during this outing against the Cubs, he showed he is indeed capable of producing that enhanced electricity when being used as a starter. His four-seamer had never averaged better than 93.2 mph in any of his previous nine career starts.

If Fried routinely pumps his fastball at this rate with consistent command, he has the tools to become an elite pitcher. Per Statcast, the spin rate of his curveball ranked fifth among all pitchers who used the pitch at least 150 times in 2018.

“I told him he looks like a young Cole Hamels,” McCann said. “He’s got the same build and the same sort of look. The stuff is off the charts.”

Chad Sobotka surrendered a pair of ninth-inning homers and A.J. Minter looked rusty as he issued a couple of walks while making a hasty season debut in Chicago’s four-run ninth. But the Braves walked away from this series feeling much better about their pitching staff than they had four days ago, when they were swept in Philadelphia.

As Fried was fashioning his gem, Mike Foltynewicz was tossing five no-hit innings during Triple-A Gwinnett’s season debut. Kevin Gausman will come off the injured list to start Friday’s game and Foltynewicz could be activated at some point during the next homestand.

Fried’s lasting place within the rotation will be influenced by the fact he has never completed more than 118 innings during his injury-plagued professional career. But this latest outing showed he does have the stuff to be an asset regardless of the role he is filling.

“He’s ready for this,” McCann said. “He’s got great stuff and he’s got great poise. I thought tonight, he threw the ball as well as you can possibly throw it.”

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