Max Fried spent the 2019 season showing he had the potential to be a solid Major League starter. He has spent the past two months proving he has both the talent and mental resolve necessary to be considered a frontline starter for many years to come.
“It was unbelievable what that kid did when Mike went down,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “How he stepped up, elevated his game and what he meant for us every five days. That was something else. There’s a lot more going into it than just going out there and taking the ball. There's a lot of expectations, and a lot of people were hanging on him every fifth day, and I thought he did an unbelievable job of handling that situation, elevating his game. He’s been huge for us all year.”
Fried posted a 2.25 ERA as the Braves won 10 of the 11 games he started this year. That doesn’t include the 1-0, 13-inning victory Atlanta claimed over Cincinnati in Game 1 of the NL Wild Card Series last Wednesday. The southpaw scattered six hits over seven scoreless innings in that outing, which was his first career postseason start.
The 26-year-old gained comfort with the slider he added last season, and then began to use the pitch more frequently this year. Opponents hit .239 against this pitch, which was considerably higher than the average produced against his four-seam fastball (.198) and curveball (.175).
But the .195 expected batting average against the slider was a reminder of how much trouble opponents have had squaring up his pitches. Fried surrendered a 23.8 percent hard-hit rate. Per Baseball Savant, that ranked first among pitchers who allowed at least 150 balls to be put in play this year.
“His curveball has always been nasty and his fastball has always been electric,” Braves third baseman Austin Riley said. “When he added that slider [before the 2019 season], it has made him that much better. When facing a guy with two pitches, you have some comfort in eliminating one pitch. When you’re facing a guy with three pitches or four like Max, that’s tough. He’s been outstanding.”
“I'm not even venturing what we’re going to do,” Snitker said. “All I see is Tuesday and getting going and getting through that game and winning. We’re going to try to win tomorrow and the next day. We’re just going to take it a game at a time. We’ll deal with the other games when we get there.”
Snitker at least gave indication that he could choose to put at least 15 pitchers on the 28-man NLDS roster the team will need to submit before the best-of-five series begins on Tuesday. The Braves carried just 13 pitchers during the best-of-three Wild Card Series.
Bryse Wilson and Huascar Ynoa are among the pitchers who could be added to the NLDS roster. Both were used to start games down the stretch this year. Even if the Braves were to go to bullpen games beyond Game 3, they would likely enter one of those contests aiming to get at least three innings from their starter.
The Braves will be playing a postseason game at Houston’s Minute Maid Park for the first time since they were eliminated from the postseason in the infamous 18-inning loss against the Astros in Game 4 of the 2005 NLDS.
Snitker wasn’t on Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox’s coaching staff that year, but he got very familiar with Houston last year. He attended both the American League Championship Series and World Series to support his son, Troy, who is one of the Astros’ hitting coaches.
“You look out there and say it seems like just yesterday I was out there watching those games,” Sntiker said. “I’m sure it’ll be a neat experience.”