Braves: 'You want your best' to open NLDS

October 3rd, 2020

ATLANTA -- Braves manager Brian Snitker wasn’t ready to officially announce his rotation plans for his team’s National League Division Series against the Marlins. But he provided an expected response when asked if there would be any benefit to not starting in Game 1.

“I don’t know if there is one,” Snitker said. “I think you want your best going in Game 1.”

There’s no doubt, the Braves’ best is Fried, who was in line to draw strong Cy Young Award consideration before being limited by back spasms and a turned ankle in September. Neither of the ailments proved to be problematic as he tossed seven scoreless innings against the Reds in Game 1 of the NL Wild Card Series on Wednesday.

Not bad for a guy who had totaled just six innings over the three previous weeks.

"I don’t think we thought about Max’s ankle or him not having that many innings,” Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said. “I think we all knew Max would go out there and compete. Him competing at the highest level is pretty special.”

Though an official announcement hasn’t been made, the assumption is the Braves will use Fried, and as the starters in the first three games of the NLDS, which begins on Tuesday at Minute Maid Park.

“We haven’t done the roster yet,” Snitker said. “Really we haven’t had a roster discussion yet. They’re all in line. But we haven’t officially done anything yet in terms of setting them up. I guess that will come within the next couple days.”

There’s nothing wrong with being coy about plans this time of year. But it’s hard to do so when you have just three legit starting options like the Braves. The primary question is what will they do when they get to Games 4 and 5 during this best-of-five series that will be played without any off-days.

Asked if Fried could return on short rest for Game 5, Snitker opted to remain coy or comical by saying, “That’s assuming we start him the first game, but yeah, I definitely think that is a possibility. We just need to see how that first game goes and the subsequent games as well.”

Anderson allowed just two hits and recorded nine strikeouts over six scoreless innings in Game 2 of the Wild Card Series. That was the 22-year-old right-hander’s first career postseason start. His second will likely come on Wednesday.

Wright wasn’t needed during the Wild Card Series. But the 24-year-old right-hander kept himself ready as he simulated five innings while pitching against some of his Braves teammates during a workout at Truist Park on Friday.

“He threw great,” Snitker said of Wright, who will likely make his first career playoff start in Game 3 on Thursday.

Bouncing back: Having missed all of Summer Camp while waiting to test negative for COVID-19, despite remaining asymptomatic following a positive test, understandably needed some time to fully get comfortable during the short regular season.

Smith allowed five earned runs over 7 2/3 innings in August and then surrendered three runs over 8 1/3 innings in September. With the steady improvement, the lefty ended up limiting opponents to a .190 batting average. But seven of the 11 hits he gave up were home runs.

“The first couple, I just tried to turn the page real quick and not really think much about it,” Smith said. “But there were a couple of nights when I was talking to [pitching coach Rick Kranitz] saying, ‘Just hit a double or something. Hit it off me. Foul it off or anything.’ It was just one of those baseball things. You just keep your head down and keep moving.”

Smith certainly looked like himself as he struck out five of the seven batters faced in the Wild Card Series.

“Toward the end of the season, I was finally starting to click again,” Smith said. “But the past two innings, I finally felt fully back and like myself. I don’t know if it was the situation that kicked me in gear or what it was.”

Familiar faces: This NLDS matchup against the Marlins will mark the third time the Braves have played a division opponent in the postseason. They lost in six games against the Marlins during the 1997 NL Championship Series and then needed six games to eliminate the Mets from the 1999 NLCS.

Snitker gained respect for the Marlins while watching his team win six of the 10 regular-season games played between the clubs this year.

“I think they’ve made some good offseason moves to help that young pitching they have accumulated,” Snitker said. “They’ve done a good job of putting that team together. That team was going to be good regardless of whether the season was 60 [games] or 162. That team was built for a six- or seven-month season."