'It's crazy how much I've grown': Fried reflects on 8th Spring Training

February 26th, 2024

NORTH PORT, Fla. -- Braves fans will always fondly remember the night helped secure the 2021 World Series title by throwing six scoreless innings after his ankle was trampled.

Fried’s right ankle was crushed by Michael Brantley during a bang-bang play at first base. But the Braves' hurler barely flinched as he composed himself with two runners on and none out in the first inning. He escaped that threat unscathed and, a few hours later, enjoyed the champagne shower reserved for champions.

“That was one of the scarier moments of my baseball career,” manager Brian Snitker said. “It’s almost like it ticked him off. The great ones are like that. The competitive drive that they have is what makes them who they are. He’s right there in that mold with the great ones.”

As Fried tossed two scoreless innings in a 2-1 loss to the Orioles on Monday afternoon, there was reason to recognize how far he has come. This Grapefruit League season debut came one day shy of the seventh anniversary of the first Spring Training game he ever pitched in for the Braves.

Fried showed his potential during that 2017 Spring Training game against the Tigers in Lakeland. He induced groundouts from Miguel Cabrera and J.D. Martinez before concluding his perfect inning with a Justin Upton strikeout.

Constructing a perfect frame against a trio of All-Stars is no longer a cause for celebration. But Fried can certainly appreciate all that he has experienced since pitching his first game with the Braves.

“That game seems like yesterday, but it also seems so long ago because so much has happened since then,” Fried said. “It’s crazy how much I’ve grown, how much I’ve learned and how much I’ve experienced.”

Fried has certainly lived up to expectations since Atlanta acquired him in the Dec. 2014 trade that sent Upton to San Diego. He has two top-five Cy Young Award finishes within the past four seasons, and his 60 wins since the start of ‘19 rank second among all MLB pitchers, trailing only Gerrit Cole (71).

“I think he could win [a Cy Young Award] at some point,” third baseman Austin Riley said. “It’s definitely in there. He just needs to keep doing what he’s doing.”

There has always been something special about Fried, who was taken by the Padres with the seventh overall selection in the 2012 MLB Draft. The lefty tasted some big league success in ‘18 and then really took a step forward when he added a slider before his 17-win season in ‘19.

But Fried credits much of his success to the fear he felt when he was promoted to the Majors during the latter part of 2017, despite being 2-11 with a 5.92 ERA in 19 starts for Double-A Mississippi.

“I wasn’t sure I was ever going to get the opportunity to play in the big leagues,” Fried said. “So when I got it, I didn’t know if it was going to be my last time ever taking the mound, which had been my dream since I was a little kid.”

Though he no longer has to prove himself, Fried remains a highly-motivated individual with a great work ethic. It doesn’t hurt that his athleticism has created reason to debate whether he could have been an everyday outfielder at the big league level. But his attention to detail has helped set him apart.

“He is prepared for everything,” catcher Travis d’Arnaud said. “He’s ready for a team three days before he faces them. He’s also very good at adjusting on the fly during the game.”

d’Arnaud believes Fried took his game to another level when he realized pitching to contact could be more valuable than constantly chasing strikeouts. The numbers certainly support this approach, as the Braves' left-hander has consistently produced some of the best soft contact numbers among big league pitchers.

Whether adding the slider or becoming a more efficient pitcher, Fried has been regularly motivated to get better. It’s safe to say he has gotten a whole lot better than he was when he brought that 5.92 ERA from the Double-A level.

“It’s been really neat to see him grow and develop,” Snitker said. “He’s an unbelievable competitor.”