ATLANTA -- Once a left ankle injury forced Max Fried to exit after the first inning of a 9-4 win over the Marlins on Wednesday night, the obvious question was whether he might be ready to start Game 1 of next week’s Wild Card Series.
“We’ll check him out tomorrow and go from there,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I’m hoping everything is good. The preliminaries are good, but we’ll know more tonight.”
Fried was not available to talk with the media because he was taken to a facility away from the stadium for further evaluation.
This is an issue the Braves will closely monitor as they prepare to enter the postseason with what was an already weakened rotation. For now, the hope is Fried’s early exit from his last regular-season start was a precautionary move to prevent him from further aggravating his left ankle, which he turned while fielding a bunt from Starling Marte.
Fried initially lobbied to remain in the game. But with the Wild Card Series just a week away, the Braves seemed to take the cautious route with their NL Cy Young Award candidate, who was on the injured list earlier this month because of lower back spasms.
“He was like, ‘I’ll give it a try,’” Snitker said. “I said if you don’t know you can go, we’re not going to test it or screw around with it. That’s [the last thing] he needed, was to go out there and hurt his arm while trying to get by.”
Had Fried continued to pitch, he may have lessened the possibility of being at full strength when the Wild Card Series begins on Wednesday. And if Fried is not ready to start Game 1? Well, if you’ve followed the Braves, you know there is not a given answer to this question.
It looks like the Braves’ starters in the best-of-three Wild Card Series will be Fried, Ian Anderson and Kyle Wright. Anderson has been effective in three of his five career starts, and Wright’s candidacy to be in the postseason rotation was questionable before he finally put two good starts together over the past two weeks. Cole Hamels was in the mix before his very brief season, in which he made one start, ended this week due to a fatigued left shoulder.
So, much of the pressure is on Fried, just like it has been since ace Mike Soroka tore his right Achilles tendon in his third start of the season. Fried has more than capably handled the added responsibility, spending the past couple of months producing a solid NL Cy Young Award resume.
But these past couple of weeks have not been as pleasurable for Fried, who was placed on the injured list after his velocity dipped when he had back spasms during his Sept. 5 start against the Nationals. His four-seamer that night averaged 91.5 mph, down from the 93.4 mph average he’d produced in his previous eight starts.
Fried’s fastball sat around 92.9 mph in the two starts he has made since returning from the injured list. But the latest outing consisted of just 22 pitches, half of which were four-seamers.
Immediately after turning his ankle while turning Marte’s bunt into an out, Fried allowed back-to-back home runs to Jesus Aguilar and Brian Anderson. He entered his matchup against Aguilar having not allowed a home run to any of the previous 220 batters faced this year.
Due to those solo homers, the sub-2.00 ERA that Fried carried over the past couple months rose to 2.25. It wasn’t how he wanted to finish the season, but as long as his left ankle cooperates, he’ll still have a chance to end the year in a more fitting fashion.