PITTSBURGH -- If the age-old adage about momentum is true, would it be beneficial if the next day’s starter was also the present day’s offensive hero?
No need to think too long about that one. The Braves and Max Fried quickly disproved this quirky theory during a 11-1 loss to the Pirates at PNC Park on Monday night. Fried celebrated a pinch-hit walk-off hit on Sunday afternoon in Atlanta and then crumbled in the decisive four-run sixth of the series opener.
“We couldn’t get anything going offensively,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I think it would have been a different story if we could have kept building on that first inning and got on the board and put a crooked number up there. That would have set a better tone.”
Six pitches into this series opener, Freddie Freeman tallied the first of his two doubles and the Braves had a lead. Pirates starter Chase De Jong needed 36 pitches to complete the first inning but then just 56 more to complete the remainder of his five-inning outing.
Even with De Jong’s rebound, the Braves trailed just 2-1 until Fried surrendered four straight hits to start the Pirates’ four-run sixth. Pittsburgh entered having won just once while scoring two runs or fewer in each of its past seven games.
Fried had allowed two runs or fewer in seven of his past nine starts. But none of these numbers mattered as the Braves (41-43) attempted to climb to .500 for the first time since June 8. They stand with the Marlins and Rangers as the only clubs to not hold a winning record at any point this season.
After constructing a four-run comeback in the ninth inning of Sunday’s 10-inning win over the Marlins, there was reason to think the Braves might finally be ready to roll. But it didn’t take long to once again question whether this club will ever stop hovering around a .500 record.
“It’s just been the story of the season,” Fried said. “We climb up and get knocked down a little bit. I went out there knowing the situation. We need guys to just step up.”
It wasn’t all bad for the Braves, who once again saw the tremendous talents of Ronald Acuña Jr. The All-Star outfielder recorded an 117.9 mph exit velocity -- the second-highest mark produced by an Atlanta player since 2015 -- with his one-out single in the fifth.
Acuña also made a great throw from the right-field corner while attempting to prevent Phillip Evans from tagging and reaching third base in the third. The throw was clocked at 95.7 mph, per Statcast, and it would have ranked as one of the best throws ever if Austin Riley had been able to secure it and tag Evans in time.
“He’s got a great arm,” Snitker said. “He’s a dangerous outfielder because there’s not a play he doesn’t think he can’t make. I know when I was a third-base coach, when playing against those guys, you had to know where they were all of the time. Guys like that think there’s not a play they can’t make, and most of the time, they are right.”
Fried’s night began to unravel after John Nogowski drew an 11-pitch walk in the fourth. Ben Gamel followed by hitting an elevated fastball over the center-field wall for a two-run homer. Things got worse when the Pirates began the sixth with four straight hits.
This wasn’t the ending Fried had envisioned. But it’s similar to those the Braves have frequently experienced whenever they have neared a winning record.
The Braves will play two more games against the Pirates and then play three games in Miami before entering the All-Star break. Getting over the hump by the end of this week could influence a front office that must decide what to do before the July 30 Trade Deadline.
“We’re going to keep grinding,” Fried said. “We have some really good guys in that clubhouse who are working really hard. We’re just going to have to have a different guy step up for us every night, like we have in the past.”