How Fried's availability affects Braves' NLDS plan

October 5th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Mark Bowman’s Braves Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

threw five innings during a moderated game at Truist Park without experiencing any problems with his left index finger blister on Tuesday night. This test proved successful enough to create the expectation Fried will be available to start Game 2 of the National League Division Series on Monday.

"It looks good without anything on it, " Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "It healed very well."

Simply saying Fried felt fine would have been viewed as a positive, at least from a short-term standpoint. But saying the blister has healed significantly over the past two weeks is really what the Braves and their fans wanted to hear.

If Fried could pitch once every 12 days during the playoffs, we probably wouldn’t even be worrying about the bothersome left index finger blister that developed during both of his final two September starts.

The concern has been how frequently Fried might be available to pitch during the postseason. Tuesday was the first time he had pitched in a game-type setting since beating the Nationals on Sept. 21. The primary hope is the blister wouldn’t be an issue after this layoff of nearly two full weeks.

But even if Fried doesn’t feel a bit of discomfort over the remainder of the year, the blister is going to remain a concern until the season’s final out is recorded.

Fried wore a Band-Aid over his finger during the final four innings he pitched on Tuesday night. He won’t be able to do this when he makes his expected start in Game 2 on Monday at Truist Park.

So, again, it was encouraging to hear Snitker indicate the blister has healed.

Even if Fried completes Monday's start without any obvious issue, the question is whether he would be available to pitch four-plus days later in a potential NLDS Game 5 or possibly NLCS Game 1. When the lefty ended his six-inning outing at Nationals Park two weeks ago, there weren’t any obvious signs the blister had reappeared. Snitker said he didn’t know there was an issue until after Fried had gone to the clubhouse.

With a day off between the first two games of the NLDS, the Braves have the option to use Spencer Strider in Games 1 and 4, and Fried in Games 2 and 5. That’s certainly a potential benefit as long as the index finger cooperates.

Charlie Morton will miss the NLDS because of a right index finger strain. So, the Braves could use Bryce Elder as their starter in Game 3. Maybe use a combination of Elder and Kyle Wright? Or possibly go with an opener? The hope is you have won at least one of the first two games before going with any of these potential options.

If Fried isn’t available for Game 5, Plans B, C and D become far harder to utilize with any sense of comfort.

Not allowing the series to get to Game 5 might be the best plan if Fried were limited to just one start in the NLDS. But it’s not like getting out of the NLDS is the ultimate goal for a team seeking its second World Series title in three years.

The Braves won it all in 2021 with Dylan Lee starting World Series Game 4 and Tucker Davidson starting the next night. They could piece it together like they did at that point of the postseason. Had Lee and Davidson been needed in an earlier round, the 1995 Braves would have remained the club’s most recent World Series champs.

It was good to see Fried get through Tuesday night’s outing without any problem and it would be encouraging for Elder to show better command when he pitches in a moderated game on Wednesday. But the key will be seeing how both fare once they are called upon during the postseason.

If the Braves advance to the NLCS, the hope is Morton will be available. If Fried is, too, his pairing with Strider and Morton gives Atlanta one of the best starting pitching trios in this year’s postseason. This is the key to Atlanta hosting yet another parade about a month from now.

The incredible Braves offense can compensate for a lot. But pitching still wins championships.