PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- It’s something so many players run into during their second campaign it has a name: sophomore slump. It’s happened to All-Star pitchers like Zack Greinke and Jered Weaver. Even White Sox ace Lucas Giolito, with whom Braves starter Max Fried works out in the offseason, battled a stretch of rough outings as a sophomore in 2019 before righting the ship.
But how to guard against it? So far in the young Spring Training season, Fried is making sure one poor outing doesn’t become two.
On Saturday night during the Braves’ 12-0 win over the Rays at Charlotte Sports Park, Fried showed -- just as he had during his standout rookie season -- that he was capable of leaving rough starts in the past. The left-hander limited a powerful Tampa Bay lineup to three singles and two walks over 2 2/3 innings, striking out one.
It was a solid response to a less-than-stellar spring debut during which Fried was pulled after one-third of an inning against the Blue Jays, who scored three runs on a pair of doubles, a single and two walks. On that day, Fried said he just didn’t have it. On Saturday, he did.
“He looked better,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He’s still not there yet, but ... he looked a little more on the attack and commanded things better, which I figured he would.”
Fried’s first encounter consisted of a dribbler to the shortstop that leadoff batter Austin Meadows beat to first base by a hair. Fried followed by coaxing a broken-bat grounder to third that was converted into a double play. In the second inning, he answered a one-out walk with a popout to short and sharp pickoff move that froze Drew Waters in his tracks between first and second base to end the inning.
Two quick outs began the third before Fried allowed a sharp single to left that ended his outing. As he walked off the field, a hundred or so Braves fans near the dugout gave him a warm ovation.
“It’s nice to get some results. Slowly with the more reps I get, I feel back to getting back to myself,” he said. “It seems like a little bit of the downtime, I felt like I was searching, and that last inning kind of felt like I was getting back into form. It felt really good.”
Last year, Fried burst onto the scene in his first full season with a 17-6 record, 173 strikeouts and a 4.02 ERA over 33 games (30 starts). A combination of the 26-year-old’s makeup, a filthy curveball and an evolving changeup -- which he threw three times Saturday, one for a swing-and-miss -- has Fried emerging not only as a staff ace but some believe a dark horse NL Cy Young contender.
“I’m just looking forward to getting out there for the next one, putting the work in between starts and really just try to get on to the routine that I’m going to do in-season,” Fried said. “I just really want to go out there and just compete, get back to competing and not worrying about all the mechanics and everything like that, just go back to executing pitches and going after guys.”
The Braves will head south to Fort Myers on Sunday to face the Red Sox. Mike Foltynewicz is slated for his second spring start after he retired six of the seven hitters he faced in his debut against the Twins. First pitch is set for 1:05 p.m. ET (watch live on MLB.TV or MLB Network).