ATLANTA — Coming off the finest year of his career, Max Fried has once again been saddled by early-season frustrations.
So too have the Braves (3-4), who ended their season-opening homestand with a 3-1 loss to the Nationals (3-4) on Wednesday afternoon at Truist Park.
“It’s the beginning of the season,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I’m glad we won three, honestly. It was a fun week. Everything the club did to celebrate last year was really good. Honestly, I think guys are ready to turn the page and just play ball. We’re done with all that.”
In other words, there’s certainly no reason to panic or fret. The Braves spent this seven-game homestand raising flags, receiving rings and being treated like kings by the fans who wanted to continue celebrating last year’s World Series title. But while all of that fanfare was nice, the focus will solely be on baseball when the Braves spend the next seven days in California, playing the Padres and Freddie Freeman’s Dodgers.
“We’re all dealing with it for the first time,” Fried said. “You want to celebrate everything that is going on, but at the same time, you have to balance that it’s 2022 and these games still count toward the season. I think this road trip is going to be really big for us to turn the page and leave everything in the past.”
Fried was talking about leaving 2021 in the past, but he could have also been referring to this season’s first week. The left-hander was damaged by soft contact during his Opening Day loss to the Reds, and he surrendered a few too many singles during this latest loss to the Nationals. Fried was charged with three runs (two earned) over 5 2/3 innings.
After allowing the Nationals to begin a two-run first inning with consecutive singles, Fried entered the sixth having retired 13 of the past 15 batters. But misfortune found him again in the form of a Nelson Cruz bouncer that hit Fried’s right hamstring. The Braves hurler exited when Josh Bell and Maikel Franco followed with consecutive singles, which led to another run.
Fried will have no trouble making his next start, and he won’t be losing any sleep over the 5.73 ERA he’ll take into next week’s outing at Dodger Stadium. If you’re into small sample sizes, he had a 9.00 ERA after last year’s first two starts.
“There’s a lot of good,” Fried said. “I’m getting outs on weak contact, which I thrive on. I also know when I make mistakes over the middle of the plate, they’re getting hit.”
Half of the eight singles Fried allowed on Opening Day had an exit velocity below 70 mph. The Nationals put 19 balls in play against Fried on Wednesday with an average exit velocity of 85.4 mph. To put that in perspective, opponents produced an average exit velocity of 86.5 mph against Fried last year, which put Fried in the top 10 percent of the league in terms of weak contact.
“I’m not worried about him,” Braves third baseman Austin Riley said. “It’s the game of baseball. You can make the perfect pitches and still have tough breaks. I like where Max is right now.”
With Ronald Acuña Jr. still a few weeks from returning, the Braves will have to deal with some early-season offensive inconsistencies. They scored 16 runs on Tuesday, then counted Riley’s sixth-inning homer as their only run on Wednesday.
Matt Olson has gotten off to a great start with his new team, and Marcell Ozuna seems capable of being as productive as he was in 2020. Olson (1.157), Riley (1.151) and Ozuna (.976) have all produced an OPS above .950. Ozzie Albies has shown some signs of life the past couple days, but Dansby Swanson has struck out in 13 of his first 25 at-bats. Alex Dickerson is 0-for-10, but four of the seven balls he’s put in play have had an exit velocity of 100 mph or higher.
“I think it’s important to know it’s a long season and obviously every game counts the exact same,” Fried said. “But you shouldn’t put too much stock or have anything that’s kind of all or nothing too early on.”