CLEVELAND -- A true breakout season tends to have certain signature moments, and one appeared to arrive for Max Fried on Sunday night.
Fried’s early season brilliance has benefited the Braves and earned him attention in Atlanta, but the stuff and self-assurance he showed in front of a national audience on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball in an 11-5 win over the Indians at Progressive Field felt like a proper coming-out party for the 25-year-old left-hander.
Though Fried’s season ERA escalated to 1.38 in the wake of his 6 1/3 innings of work, that was more a testament to how minuscule the mark was coming into the evening than anything Fried did wrong. Staked to an early lead, Fried overcame some first-inning wildness to breeze past the Cleveland bats with an electric mix highlighted by a beautiful breaking ball.
“He might look young, but … mid-90s fastball, slow breaking ball that kind of kept spinning,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “Kind of reminded me of [reigning AL Cy Young Award winner] Blake Snell in Tampa. I can see why they’re so excited about him.”
Fried allowed two runs (both of which came in his seventh inning of work) on seven hits with three walks and six strikeouts. What was most encouraging was the way he corralled his command after issuing all three of those walks with two outs in the first. Once he got Jason Kipnis to fly out to center to end that inning, he began a run in which he retired 17 of the next 22 batters he faced. Francisco Lindor finally tagged him with a solo shot in the seventh, and Fried left behind another runner who scored. But the main takeaway was talent and tenacity.
“I just I felt like I was maybe overthrowing a little bit in the early portion,” he said. “I was trying to get that third out a little too hard. I tried to take a step back, execute pitches. By the time I went out for the second inning, I was executing pitches.”
His best pitch is that Snell-like curve. Fried threw it 28 times and got eight swinging strikes and three called strikes. And where walks were once the clearest source of concern in his small sample of opportunity in the big leagues (he walked 4.8 batters per nine in 59 2/3 innings between 2017 and ’18), this evening was more evidence of how far he’s come with his command of all his pitches.
“The fastball command has been so much better,” manager Brian Snitker said. “I think the slider is becoming a really good pitch for him. The ability to spin the ball is what we’ve been looking for from him. He’s repeating his delivery and taking it a pitch at a time.”
Fried will keep taking it one start at a time, and it won’t always be as easy as he’s made it look in his first four starts. But the Braves just might have a true breakout on their hands.
“Being the best version of me,” Fried said, “is going to be plenty good enough.”