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Fried 'as good as it gets,' retires 19 straight Nats

Lefty allows 1 hit in 7 innings as Braves extend NL East lead to 8 games
@mlbbowman
September 6, 2019

ATLANTA -- If there were any lingering questions regarding Max Fried's candidacy for the postseason rotation, he authoritatively answered them by producing his finest start in what was considered the Braves’ most important game to date. Fried rightfully drew widespread praise after he proved nearly unhittable over seven scoreless innings

ATLANTA -- If there were any lingering questions regarding Max Fried's candidacy for the postseason rotation, he authoritatively answered them by producing his finest start in what was considered the Braves’ most important game to date.

Fried rightfully drew widespread praise after he proved nearly unhittable over seven scoreless innings and helped the Braves move closer to a National League East title with a 4-2, series-opening win over the Nationals on Thursday night at SunTrust Park.

Box score

“That was as good as it gets,” Braves catcher Brian McCann said. “He had it all working tonight. He could throw any pitch in any count. He got ahead and stayed on the attack. That’s some of the best stuff we’ve seen all year from him.”

MLB standings

Ronald Acuña Jr. fueled a two-run first inning with his 34th stolen base and created some comfort by further damaging Stephen Strasburg with his 37th homer in the fifth. But as the Braves exited the opener of this four-game series with an eight-game lead over the Nationals and a magic number of 15 for clinching the NL East, the spotlight shined on Fried.

Acuña draws near 40-40 with 37th HR, 34th SB

“It’s a big series,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “To have a kid go out and throw like that is big to get the first game. In that situation, that’s really encouraging to see a guy come into a series like this and pitch like that.”

Fried tallied nine strikeouts and counted Anthony Rendon’s first-inning infield single as the only hit he surrendered during what was just the second seven-inning effort of his young career. The 25-year-old lefty retired each of the 19 batters he faced after Rendon tapped his single down the third-base line.

“I think you have to go into it trying to level your emotions,” Fried said. “Obviously, you can get caught up in it. You know it’s an important series. You know where they are in the standings. At the start of these four games, I wanted to come out and start us off on the right foot.”

Knowing he was going to be lifted following the seventh, Fried ended his 90-pitch outing by blowing a 96 mph fastball past Juan Soto, who struck out in each of his three plate appearances against the Braves southpaw. Nationals leadoff hitter Trea Turner went down swinging against another 96 mph fastball in the third and then whiffed on a slider to end the sixth.

“He has great stuff, obviously,” Turner said. “He has life on his fastball and he can really spin the breaking ball. So I thought he was good and hats off to him tonight.”

Looking back, the blister that limited Fried to three starts (15 1/3 innings) in July was likely a blessing in disguise. The lefty has thrown 149 1/3 innings, which is approximately 30 more than his previous professional high. But instead of showing signs of fatigue, he is currently in the best stretch of his career.

Fried has posted a 2.90 ERA over his past seven starts and he has tallied at least eight strikeouts in four of his past six outings. He had reached that total in just three of the 30 career starts he made before this stretch.

This strikeout increase can be attributed to the enhanced comfort Fried has gained with his slider, a pitch he developed during Spring Training and then began using more frequently near the end of April. Everyone has long known about his big curveball, which has gained more value now that hitters must look for two different breaking balls in any count.

Fried tested the Nationals with 25 sliders and 17 curveballs, seven of which induced a swing and miss. He threw the slider 27.8 percent of the time, his second-highest usage of the season. His season high (28.9 percent) was produced when he struck out eight while limiting the Cubs to two runs over six innings on June 25 at Wrigley Field.

“It’s been a lot more consistent,” said McCann, who contributed a run-scoring single in the eighth. “The slider keeps everybody off the fastball. It all plays together. It was fastball/curveball early in the season. Now he’s got that slider, which looks like the fastball. So it kind of protects everything else.”

The remainder of this month and the opponent will influence how the Braves set their postseason rotation. But regardless of what transpires, it appears Fried will get a chance to start in October and extend the mojo that has been created as Atlanta has won each of the past nine games he’s started.

“You just know this is what we’ve been playing the whole year for,” Fried said. “We’re coming down to the end of the year. I’m just trying to finish as strong as possible.”

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.