Max Fried was the odd man out when the initial rotation was released to begin the season. He was considered the fifth starter, but with multiple days off, Fried was used as a bullpen arm in the opening week. That all changed on Thursday.
Fried was handed the ball for his first start and went out their an electrified the supporting fans that stuck around on a rainy night at SunTrust Park. The 25-year former #7 overall pick retired the first 17 batters he faced, carrying a perfect game until the final out of the sixth inning. Anybody who throws 5+ innings of perfect baseball is going to come away as impressive, but Fried was dropping jaws on the Braves’ side and leaving the Cubs shaking their heads.
His fastball was cooking. While it sat consistently in the mid-90s, Fried was able to dial it up to 97 when needed. But what allowed him to buzz through a potent Cubs lineup was his aggressiveness and control. Fried was attacking batters from the opening pitch, saying, “Here’s my stuff. Let me see if you can hit.” When you’ve got 97 in your back pocket and a nasty curve that sits in the mid-70s, there should not be any other mindset. It’s even more daunting when Fried has his changeup and slider working like he did Thursday night. The Cubs had no chance, and after Fried retired his last batter in the sixth, he left to a standing ovation.
Postgame, Brian McCann gave David O’Brien of the Athletic a fascinating comparison for the southpaw from Southern California.
“Tell me he doesn’t look just like Cole Hamels. Good comp. Doesn’t he? He’s got the same build and the same sort of look. And the stuff is off the charts.”
Appearance-wise – the two could not be any more similar. Both of them stand at 6’4″, weighing 195 pounds soaking wet with flowing hair that would allow them to be movie stars if their baseball careers never panned out. On the mound, it’s not much more difficult to point out the resemblances.
Both Hamels and Fried feature a mid-90s fastball that they control on both sides of the plate. That allows them to set up their deadly secondary pitches. For Hamels over his career, his go-to pitch was always the changeup. So far in Friends’ career, it has been the curveball. Although, when watching last night, Fried’s changeup worked like a charm. That will be a pitch he begins to go to more and more often as it continues to develop. Hamels also has a looping mid-70s curve in his repertoire, but not at the same level as the one Fried currently has working.
Fried has a long way to go to develop the reputation that Hamels has earned, but he is emerging as the first pitching prospect to set himself apart since Mike Foltynewicz. He was electric down the stretch and into the playoffs out of the bullpen last year. Fried says that experience out of the pen has helped tremendously in his development as a starter. Now, he looks more than prepared to take over one of the spots in the rotation. Given Atlanta’s lack of consistent starting pitching, Fried could find himself near the top of the rotation by season’s end if he continues down this path.