February 2, 2023

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Pieces fall into place for Braves in finale 'W'

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Ozuna, Riley homer behind dominant Fried, with help from outfield

ATLANTA — Since tweaking their lineup on May 23, the Braves have won four of their last seven games and have scored more than five runs in each victory. Atlanta continued to pick up steam in Sunday’s 6-3 win over the Marlins, with nine of their 11 hits going for extra bases.

Marcell Ozuna had been recovering from a stomach bug that left him not feeling like himself since the series finale vs. Philadelphia on May 26. He said that he had to go half-speed to begin the Miami series so he didn’t get sick during the game.

But when Ozuna walked into the clubhouse on Sunday feeling 100% after finally being able to stomach his breakfast, he was ready to help the Braves win their first series homestand of the year.

“We’re coming,” Ozuna said about the squad’s slow start. “We’re going to win everything together, and I think we have a good group. And we are champions, so everyone wants to come to us and [try and] beat us, but we don’t want to let them.”

Ozuna and Austin Riley led Atlanta’s offense, each with two RBIs — including going back-to-back for the second time this season with a set of solo homers in the bottom of the first inning. The heart of the order also had two hits apiece, which included Matt Olson roping two doubles to become the first Major League player this season to hit 20 two-baggers.

With the squad’s bats beginning to come around, Max Fried gave the team another dominant performance on the mound with his seventh quality start this season. The 28-year-old went six innings and allowed one run on six hits (one homer) and three walks. Fried also struck out five, including his 500th career strikeout, which came against former teammate Jorge Soler. Fried ranks third in MLB this season with 61 innings pitched (61) and is tied for third in wins (5-2) with 22 other starters.

“Definitely didn’t feel like I had the best fastball command,” Fried said, “but felt like I was able to really rely on Travis [d’Arnaud] back there, [he] kind of stuck with me and [we] were able to get through six [innings]. The offense obviously exploded, a bunch of the homers, [and I] was able to take the pressure off and just go out there and just try to get some outs.”

Fried also got help from his outfield, with Ronald Acuña Jr. and top prospect Michael Harris II starting in right field and center. As Harris adjusts to the jump from Double-A Mississippi to the Majors, his high-level defense is already on full display.

“He’s a natural,” manager Brian Snitker said, “you can tell that. He’s playing the card and reactions off the bat and things like that — that’s pretty impressive.”

The young center fielder made two catches that showed off his athleticism. A fourth-inning tumbling grab that had a 45% catch probability and an opportunity time of 3.5 seconds was the 21-year-old’s favorite.

“I really caught it barehanded, and I kind of misjudged it, kind of made the wrong turn, slipped, so I had to do anything I could to make the catch.”

While the second snag had a higher catch probability, it was far from routine.

“The one over his head is probably the toughest play for an outfielder — the ball straight over your head,” Snitker said. “How he recovered, and the body control and all that, was pretty impressive.”

With their outfield liability slowly improving, their bats beginning to click and an addition to the pitching rotation in Spencer Strider, who will make his first start in the Majors on Monday, the new-look Braves are starting to put the pieces together.

“We’ve kind of been waiting to put it all together,” Snitker said. “We’ve been struggling to get a toehold and to get on all cylinders, and I kind of feel like we’re trending in that direction right now.”

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