Braves: Max Fried continues to thrive in the biggest moments

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Max Fried began the 2019 season looking like Cole Hamels, carrying a 2.11 ERA entering his second start of May. Then, as is to be expected, some inconsistencies followed. His patented curveball was not as reliable from start to start, which is crucial for Fried who has yet to develop a go-to third pitch, but he’s found his groove again in August.

Fried threw his first career complete game to begin the month against the Reds. Of course, it was a rain-shortened fiasco, but hey, it still counts in the record books. He was surgical, completing six innings in just 75 pitches, and he followed it up five days later with a masterful performance versus the potent lineup of the Minnesota Twins.

Fried struck out a season-high ten batters in just 5 1/3 innings and did not allow a home run to the team that leads the majors in the category. He also only walked one batter. Unfortunately, Luke Jackson could not pick him up, letting both runners he inherited score, but that did not take away from the show Fried put on, and it did not stop him from picking up his team-leading 13th win. That brings us to Tuesday night; where the lefty once again delivered in a critical series-opener against the red-hot Mets.

New York came to Atlanta winners of 15 of their last 17, jumping to third in the NL East and sniffing a Wild Card spot. Max Fried didn’t care. He attacked hitters with his fastball early and often and made his best pitches when he needed them. Fried allowed ten baserunners, but only let one of them cross the plate, and my guess is he beat himself up during the bottom of that frame.

In the second inning, Fried retired the first two batters before allowing a hit to Juan Lagares, who had four of them on the night. Then he hit the pitcher, Zack Wheeler, with a floating curveball in a 1-2 count after he looked helpless on two straight fastballs. A single by McNeil to follow put the Mets one behind the Braves, but that is as close as they would get all night.

In the fourth, Lagares would find himself in scoring position again with McNeil at the plate, but this time Fried got the best of a lengthy at-bat, which ended in a strikeout. The southpaw found himself in some more trouble in the sixth but was bailed out by the cannon that is Ronald Acuña’s arm.

That was the final pitch of the night for Fried, who was not his best but showed once again how much he loves to compete under the brightest of lights.

Speaking of Acuña, the top of Atlanta’s order continued to rake. The Braves’ 21-year-old phenom led the game off with a long single off the top of the right-field wall and would go on to score his 100th run of the season on a Josh Donaldson single – one of his three hits on the night. Matt Joyce brought in Freddie Freeman later in the inning to increase the cushion for Fried before he went out for the second inning.

Freeman picked up his MLB-leading 96th RBI in the bottom half of the second on a bloop single down the left-field line, and it was Ronald Acuña, again, two innings later, delivering his 34th homer of the year on a 98 MPH fastball up in the zone.

Ender Inciarte would give the Braves their fifth run with a double off the first-base bag, but then Atlanta’s bats went quiet, which is never a good thing with their unnerving bullpen.

Luke Jackson relieved Fried to start the seventh and pitched a clean frame with two strikeouts, but the same cannot be said for Shane Greene in the eighth. The once-dominant closer for the Tigers allowed two hits to the first two batters he faced, creating a “Here we go again feeling” throughout SunTrust Park. The very next batter, Wilson Ramos, grounded into what should have been a double-play, but a poor exchange led to only one out, and Brian Snitker had seen enough.

He pulled Greene for Jerry Blevins, who recorded a single out before being replaced by Anthony Swarzak. Swarzak allowed a dinky infield single that led to a run before recording the final out of a stressful inning. Both runs were charged to Greene, which gives him seven earned runs in 4.1 innings pitched with the Braves. He only allowed four earned runs in 38 innings for the Tigers.

With a two-run lead, Snitker turned to Melancon for the ninth. Unlike Greene, he looks like he was built to close ball games. New York sent their 1-2-3 hitters to the plate, and only McNeil could make any contact. He grounded weakly to third for the first out of the inning. Then Melancon got Rosario and Alonso to swing at curveballs in the dirt for strikeouts.

It wasn’t the prettiest of games, but it puts Atlanta one step closer to a division title and knocks the rival Mets even further back in the playoff race. With the Nationals winning again at home against the Reds, the Braves remain six games up in the East with 41 games left to play.

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