ATLANTA -- Despite a strong start -- maybe even one of his best in the Majors this year -- Max Fried was let down by the Braves' offense and bullpen.
Saturday night's 5-1 loss to the Dodgers at SunTrust Park continued a frustrating trend for the Braves' lineup, which has been unable to find much success recently. The loss also highlighted the need for more consistency out of the bullpen, as relievers Luke Jackson, Sam Freeman and Jonny Venters allowed the Dodgers to tack on four runs over the final four innings.
After being placed on the 10-day disabled list on July 6 with a blister on his left middle finger, Fried returned to the Braves' starting rotation on Saturday with one of his best starts -- and one the Braves needed after a couple of subpar performances from Anibal Sanchez and Mike Foltynewicz to open the first two games of the four-game set with the Dodgers.
"It was a good first start back after being away for a while and going through what he did and I thought he was really good," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "Velocity was better, I thought, and that breaking ball was really good."
Fried was dominant in his rehab starts throughout two appearances in July. He did not allow a run through 11 1/3 innings for both Triple-A Gwinnett and Double-A Mississippi. In his last rehab start before returning to the Majors, Fried threw a gem, striking out 10 en route to a 6 2/3-innings night where he gave up just one hit.
He brought that same mentality into the Braves' bout with the Dodgers, tossing five complete innings and giving up one run on a pair of hits. With an uptick in velocity on Saturday night in which his fastball maxed out just under 97 mph and a curveball that he consistently threw for strikes, Fried has now used that arsenal to give up just one run in his past 16 1/3 innings.
"That's a really good lineup over there. They are in first place for a reason," Fried said. "I was just trying to keep us in the game as long as I could. Hopefully, you are able to come back."
But come back the Braves did not.
And while Fried's first outing after being reinstated off the DL was impressive, Dodgers right fielder Yasiel Puig -- also back from the DL Saturday -- provided a game-altering performance by driving in three of the Dodgers' five runs.
With a sacrifice fly in the top of the second inning off Fried and a two-run home run in the sixth off Jackson, Puig gave the Dodgers all the run security they would need against a Braves offense that has struggled to push runs across since putting up 12 against the Marlins on Monday.
Puig carried much of the load offensively for the Dodgers on Saturday night, but the Braves' offense couldn't seem to find anyone to do the same, as the lineup strung together just three hits.
"We are having a hard time getting anything flowing, at all," Snitker said of his team's offense. "No rhythm in the at-bats and [we're not] keeping the line moving."
Dodgers starter and former Braves draftee Alex Wood kept Atlanta from doing much outside of Charlie Culberson's double off the left-field wall in the first inning, which was the lone hit for the Braves up until Johan Camargo launched a solo homer to lead off the seventh against reliever Caleb Ferguson.
"Some of the balls we hit good are right at them," Snitker said. "It's also maybe that we have faced some pretty good pitching -- but it's the Major League and that's kind of a nightly thing."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
With a 3-1 deficit in the top of the ninth, the Braves still had a fighting chance to come back. However, back-to-back walks from Freeman gave the Dodgers the chance to tack on a couple more runs with the back-to-back RBI singles that followed. Saturday was the third time in as many relief appearances that Freeman gave up two runs in less than two innings.
"He's got to pitch if he's here," Snitker said of Freeman. "It's one of those things where you try to put him in non-leverage situations and hopefully he gets it going. … He's been struggling a little bit, so you pick a spot that's not quite such a stressful situation but every time you go out on a Major League mound, it's a big deal."
Over the course of the Braves' four-game losing streak, the offense has been outscored, 26-7. As a team during this span, they are hitting a collective .175 with 33 strikeouts.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Peter Moylan was mere milliseconds away from taking a Matt Kemp line drive to the face in the seventh inning. Kemp smoked a line drive right back to Moylan, but the reliever was able to throw his glove up just in time to snag the hard-hit ball, possibly saving a run by turning a double play.
Kemp's line drive had an exit velocity of 105.4 mph. To put that speed into perspective, Puig's two-run home run in the sixth inning was moving at 108.8 mph -- and that ball was hit 419 feet.
HE SAID IT
"It's just one of those things I wish I had the magic answer to make it happen, but you just don't." -- Snitker, on a slumping Braves offense
The Braves and Dodgers will conclude their four-game set at SunTrust Park on Sunday at 1:35 p.m. ET. Sean Newcomb will take the mound for the Braves. After three lackluster starts to open July, Newcomb got back on track in his last start against the Marlins on July 23. Newcomb tossed six complete innings, giving up just one run on four hits. The Dodgers will counter with Thomas Stripling.
While the Braves conclude their series with the Dodgers, Chipper Jones will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Coverage begins at 11 a.m. ET on MLB Network.