Fried strong, but 'pen lets Blue Jays get away

May 13th, 2021

ATLANTA -- While it would be nice for everything to immediately come together every year, it doesn’t seemingly work that way too often in the baseball world. Thus, there is a need for the patience the Braves will continue to show while hoping to steadily feel better about both their offense and pitching staff.

Max Fried enhanced some of the optimism as he delivered a second straight strong start since returning from the injured list. But his effort went for naught as a work-in-progress bullpen faltered again for the Braves in their 4-1 loss to the Blue Jays on Wednesday night at Truist Park.

Teoscar Hernández’s seventh-inning leadoff homer off Luke Jackson sunk the Braves, who have lost the first two games of this series and each of the five played against the Blue Jays this year.

After Hernández capped a two-homer performance with the 464-foot two-run dinger he hit off Josh Tomlin in the ninth, the Braves didn’t make much noise. Their only run of the night came courtesy of a 463-foot missile rookie catcher William Contreras hit in the fifth.

While Contreras has tasted early success, there’s growing reason to believe top prospect Cristian Pache needs to spend a month or two further developing offensively at the Triple-A level. Pache has hit .113 with a .364 OPS over 62 at-bats.

With Pache, the Braves essentially have two pitcher’s spots in the lineup. But it should be pointed out, Fried at least recorded a hit in this loss, something the young center fielder has done just three times this month. 

Just as the Braves could soon replace Pache with Guillermo Heredia or Ender Inciarte, who are both rehabbing, they can soon assign a lesser role to Jackson, who allowed Hernández to hit the seventh inning’s first pitch over the fence.

While Jackson has been better than last year, he won’t be getting the innings reserved for Chris Martin, who was activated from the injured list on Wednesday, and the recently-signed Shane Greene. Both of those right-handers will immediately assume their high-leverage roles.

With Blue Jays starter Hyun Jin Ryu limiting the Braves to Contreras’ monstrous home run over seven innings, there was no room for error for Fried. The lefty allowed just one hit through the first five innings and kept the Blue Jays scoreless until Marcus Semien doubled against a 1-2 curveball with two outs in the sixth.

The Blue Jays whiffed on four of eight swings against Fried’s curveball and on four of the 10 swings against his slider. With his two breaking balls once again effective, it looks like the Braves lefty has distanced himself from his early struggles. He posted an 11.45 ERA in the three starts he made before missing three weeks with a strained right hamstring.

“I feel like I’m within myself, really focusing on executing and competing,” Fried said. “Before, I felt like maybe I was doing a little too much. That crept in a little bit with two strikes tonight. But beyond that, I felt like I was able to move the ball around a little bit.”

Fried has allowed two earned runs over the 11 innings he has completed in his two starts since being activated. Had he been a little further along with his return, he likely would have been allowed to pitch beyond the 89 pitches he totaled in this six-inning effort.

“Back-to-back like that is really a good sign,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I’m sure he feels really good about it also.”