Grand time for Braves in Fried's strong return

May 6th, 2021

extended the Braves’ recent grand slam barrage, and hit his first career home run. But as the Braves claimed a 5-3 win over the Nationals on Wednesday night at Nationals Park, a healthy produced the most encouraging development, by looking much more like he did last year.

“That’s as good as his stuff has been all year,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “In the second [inning] he started getting in a flow and a rhythm, and his stuff started being live again. That was really encouraging to see.”

Fried returned from the injured list to limit the Nationals to one run over five innings. His best start of the season was supported by Ozuna, who opened the game’s scoring by hitting an opposite-field grand slam off Erick Fedde in the third.

“Ozuna coming up in that situation, and especially hitting the ball the other way, that looked a lot like what he was doing last year,” Fried said. “You can see he’s taking really good at-bats. He’s looking like he’s really back on the right track.”

Quite honestly, the Braves should feel fortunate to be just two games below .500 through this season’s first 30 games.

Fried posted an 11.45 ERA in the first three starts he made before going on the injured list, and reigning National League MVP is hitting .202 with a .758 OPS. Ozuna led the Majors in home runs last year, but he has just a .609 OPS, a number that has improved as he has tallied three of his four homers within his past seven games.

If Freeman gets rolling, and Ozuna’s recent success is a sign of things to come, the Braves may finally show the consistent offensive firepower they possessed the past couple seasons.

Huascar Ynoa hit a grand slam in Tuesday’s series-opening win over the Nationals, and Cristian Pache tallied his first career slam on Saturday against the Blue Jays. Per the Elias Sports Bureau, this marks the first time the Braves have hit grand slams in back-to-back games since Eddie Perez and Ryan Klesko did it on Sept. 16-17, 1997.

“[Ozuna] got a little to show for his efforts tonight,” Snitker said. “That’s good. Maybe that’s what will get him going."

Ozuna’s ability to duplicate some of the success he had last year will take some pressure off Contreras, who is 4-for-10 with the one homer since Travis d’Arnaud’s thumb injury made him Atlanta’s everyday catcher. The 23-year-old rookie is following in the footsteps of his proud brother Willson Contreras, the Cubs’ All-Star catcher.

“He can play ball,” Ozuna said of the Braves' catcher. “He has a long career to learn and do damage in baseball. For me, he’s going to be better than his brother.”

While Contreras was preparing to spend some time in the Minor Leagues this year, Fried entered the season intent to build on the success he had while posting a 2.25 ERA over 11 starts in 2020. But after being given his first Opening Day start, he struggled through those first three starts.

Looking back, Fried believes his mechanics were negatively affected when he too-often rushed his delivery and attempted to make the perfect pitch.

“You get caught sometimes trying to go through the motions instead of just going and worrying about competing,” Fried said. “I'm at my best when I'm not thinking and I'm leaving it all out there.”

Fried allowed the Marlins career highs in both hits (9) and runs (8) over just four innings on April 13. Adding salt to the wound, he strained his right hamstring after a short bench forced him to bat in the bottom of the fourth.

It was an odd injury. But as time passes, there may be even more reason to believe it was a beneficial one.

“We kind of said, 'This might end up being a blessing in disguise, where you can kind of just regroup a little bit,'” Snitker said. “If he stays the course right here, that's going to be huge for us.”