Tuesday night, righty Huascar Ynoa once again made Braves fans appreciative of the Jaime Garcia deal from the summer of 2017, when Atlanta sent Garcia and minor league catcher Anthony Recker to the Twins in exchange for cash and what was then a teenage Dominican pitcher with decent potential. Since that deal, it’s been a rather long road to where he’s currently standing, featuring a 7.30 ERA in just over 24 big league innings leading up to 2021, but at this juncture — just six starts into his first season as a regular in big league rotation — Ynoa is arguably the glue currently holding this Braves starting rotation together. Although, if everything goes as planned on Wednesday, Ynoa should no longer be expected to carry such a weight.
Max Fried will return from the IL to start Wednesday in the second game of the #Braves' series at Nationals Park.
— David O'Brien (@DOBrienATL) May 2, 2021
It’s been 21 days since he last threw a pitch for the Braves, but lefty Max Fried will return today to face the Nationals in what will undoubtedly be one of the most crucial starts for an Atlanta pitcher this season — until Mike Soroka’s eventual return of course. Sure a series win on Wednesday is ideal, and given the Braves struggles thus far in 2021, any win is welcomed at this point. But Fried’s first game back has less to do about the present and much more about the future, for Atlanta’s season going forth could very well depend on which Max Fried shows up today.
We all know the issues that Fried has pitched through this year. After working a solid, yet inefficient, opening day start against the Phillies on April 1, featuring a 94-pitch effort to get through five innings, the southpaw completely unraveled in his April 7 assignment versus the Nationals. Two innings that featured 15 batters and 49 pitches, Fried left that outing in D.C. having allowed five runs from eight hits; an uncharacteristic performance for him for sure, but also an outing that, at the time, was considered nothing more than an outlier.
But then Fried did it again, this time against a team projected as one of the three-worst teams in the sport. On April 13, the Marlins slugged two home runs against Fried, and when he finally finished the 4th inning, Miami had already put up eight runs. Something was obviously wrong.
Three weeks later, and hopefully what’s been a 100% recovery from his strained hamstring from the aforementioned Marlins game, Fried will get what should be considered a fresh start this season. The Braves have managed to piece together what’s been a roller-coaster ride of a starting staff since his absence, that’s primarily featured more lows than highs:
Ynoa, as mentioned above, has been electric; Ian Anderson at times has resembled his 2020 self, only to fall apart soon after; Charlie Morton has at least eaten some much-needed innings, though while performing at a lower-than-ideal level most of the time; Drew Smyly has been… let’s just say a disaster; and even when having low expectations going in, fill-in starts from Bryse Wilson usually result in a Braves loss seemingly before the offense even gets a chance to do anything.
It’s clear that Atlanta is simply getting by with its starting rotation at this point, but getting by doesn’t win division titles or appear in the World Series. But there’s no point in speculating how Fried will pitch today. And there’s no reason to over-analyze the incredibly small sample of stats he posted leading up to his injury, either. All that matters is Fried is back.
However, let’s just hope it’s the right Fried…
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