Fried exits with left hamstring discomfort, likely headed to IL

March 30th, 2023

WASHINGTON -- It didn’t take long for Braves manager Brian Snitker to be reminded of how frequently he and his peers can be simultaneously introduced to the highs and lows of a 162-game season.

Instead of focusing on Travis d’Arnaud’s four-hit Opening Day performance or the bullpen’s great effort, Snitker exited the Braves’ 7-2 win over the Nationals on Thursday afternoon uncertain about how long he might be without his ace, Max Fried.

“We came right out of la-la land down there in Florida right into the grinder that we go through,” Snitker said.

Fried exited the season-opening win at Nationals Park after he strained his left hamstring while racing to cover first base in the bottom of the fourth inning. The lefty hopes to avoid missing any time, but his manager is far less confident about the southpaw making his next scheduled start on Wednesday in St. Louis.

“[He] strained his hamstring,” Snitker said. “It’s more than likely going to be an [injured-list stint].

"We haven’t officially [put him on the IL], but he’ll definitely miss a start.”

Fried made his third consecutive Opening Day start Thursday, as he began his bid to improve on last year’s second-place finish in National League Cy Young Award balloting. He stands as one of the game’s top starters, and he is the ace of a legit World Series contender.

So it’s easy to understand why his early exit dampened the mood after a big win on a big day.

“From the dugout, no one really knew what was going on,” said d’Arnaud, who served as the designated hitter. “Then once we heard some things, it’s tough news. But he’ll still be around and he’ll still cheer on the guys, and he’ll come back soon.”

Fried hopes he is just dealing with a minor tweak that might improve within the next couple of days. He said he felt the hamstring discomfort as he ran to cover first base on Dominic Smith’s groundout to Matt Olson. When Fried walked back toward the mound, he briefly touched the back of his left leg. He threw one warmup pitch and then walked without a noticeable limp toward the clubhouse.

“[Head athletic trainer George Poulis] said we didn’t want to take any chances, with the weather being a little chillier today,” Fried said. “Right now, it’s just about how I feel in the coming days.”

If Fried isn’t ready to make Wednesday’s start, the Braves could promote Ian Anderson or Bryce Elder from Triple-A Gwinnett. Kyle Wright (right shoulder soreness) isn’t eligible to come off the injured list until April 11.

After Wednesday, Fried’s turn would come up next on April 10 against the Reds.

If Fried is placed on the injured list, the Braves will immediately test their starting-pitching depth, which has been bolstered by the great performances top prospects Jared Shuster and Dylan Dodd provided during Spring Training. Shuster, who ranks as Atlanta’s No. 1 prospect per MLB Pipeline, will make his MLB debut on Sunday. Dodd, who ranks as the team’s No. 10 prospect, will make his first big league appearance when he starts Tuesday in St. Louis.

Dodd and Shuster constructed great stories during Spring Training. They now may have a chance to lessen the significance of Fried’s absence.

“You don’t want to see this happen,” Snitker said. “But if it’s going to happen, I’d rather it [be] earlier than later, that’s for sure.”

Unfortunately for Fried, he’s starting this year somewhat like he ended last year. He enjoyed one of the best seasons of his career in 2022, but he lost 15 pounds as he was weakened by a virus that hit him during the regular season’s final week. So he was far from full strength when he lost Game 1 of the NL Division Series against the Phillies.

Fried also missed three weeks after straining his right hamstring during his third start of the 2021 season. He produced a MLB-best 1.74 ERA after the All-Star break that year, then pitched six scoreless innings as the Braves clinched the World Series with a Game 6 win.

This is certainly not the desired formula for success, but all will not be lost if Fried is again forced to miss a few weeks during the season’s first month.

“It's a long season,” Fried said. “You can get back into a rhythm, and I definitely turned it around that ‘21 season coming back from that. I'm going to make sure that I'm doing everything that I can, so that when I do take that mound again, I’m ready to go.”