WASHINGTON -- Max Fried is starting to look like he could benefit from the rest that the Braves can more comfortably provide now that they spent a second straight weekend extending their success against the Nationals and moving closer to clinching the National League East.
Plans to celebrate a second straight division title were pushed back at least one additional day courtesy of a 7-0 loss to the Nationals on Sunday afternoon at Nationals Park. But the Braves still made a statement as they won this three-game set and went 5-2 over the past two weekends against Washington.
The Braves own a 9 1/2-game lead over the second-place Nationals, and their magic number to claim the NL East title is four with 11 games remaining. They’ll spend the season’s final two weeks analyzing their injury-depleted roster and determining how guys like Fried fit their postseason plans.
Bump in the road
When Fried limited the Nationals to one run over seven innings on Sept. 5, he appeared to essentially be a lock to make a playoff start. But after the 25-year-old lefty allowed five earned runs over just 2 1/3 innings on Sunday, there is reason to reassess his candidacy.
Fried surrendered five earned runs in both starts made during this 4-3 road trip, which began in Philadelphia. He has now done so in three of his past five starts. The young southpaw got a breather when a blister and the All-Star break limited him to 15 1/3 innings in July. But the recent inconsistency signals he might be battling fatigue near the end of his first full MLB season.
“I think it was just one of those days,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He was trying ... to make everything happen, and it just wasn’t happening for him. We just cut our losses there, and he’ll do it again the next time.”
Coming into this season, Fried’s professional-high innings total was 118 2/3, which he completed in 2013, before he spent a couple years struggling to recover from Tommy John surgery. He has already totaled 156 2/3 innings this year.
“I don’t think he’s tired at all,” Snitker said. “I just think it’s what he’s going through. He was really, really good to be where he’s at. I think you can point to things if you want. Everybody is tired. It’s the middle of September. We’ve been doing this since February.”
With that being said, Fried has continued to show good arm strength. He ended Sunday’s scoreless first inning by getting Juan Soto to look at a 97.5 mph fastball. But he struggled to command his slider, and his four-seamer was not effective over the next two innings. Fried surrendered Yan Gomes’ two-run single in the second and exited shortly after allowing Howie Kendrick’s two-run single in the third.
“It’s going to be the ups and downs of the season for me,” Fried said. “I’m going into it and preparing for every start the same. It’s just about making those in-game adjustments before it’s too late. Today, it felt like I was trying to do too much again. It kind of just bit me.”
After watching Nick Markakis spray line drives during the first two games of this series, Braves third-base coach Ron Washington playfully asked Snitker, “Are we sure he hasn’t been hitting somewhere over the past few weeks?”
Markakis went 7-for-13 with a double during this three-game set. That’s a good series for anybody, especially somebody who had spent the previous six weeks on the injured list with a fractured left wrist. The only live pitching the veteran outfielder saw between July 26 and Friday’s matchup against Max Scherzer came via a Minor Leaguer during a live batting practice staged Wednesday in Philadelphia.
“These guys have been fun to watch when I haven’t been out there,” Markakis said. ”It’s even more fun when you’re out there playing with these guys.”
With the Braves trailing 6-0 in the sixth inning of this season series finale against the Nationals, Snitker removed Freddie Freeman and put Austin Riley at first base. It was a good time to rest Freeman, who has been bothered by a right elbow bone spur. At the same time, Riley now stands as the primary backup option at both corner-infield spots.
“We’ve got what we’ve got right now,” Snitker said. “It’s hard to replace all of these guys.”