Single-A Rome Braves pitcher Max Fried is expected to some day become a starter in Atlanta. To get that trajectory on track, he had to overcome the biggest setback of his career.
Fried, 22, is 23 months removed from Tommy John surgery that cut short his third season in the Padres’ farm system. Four months after surgery, the former first-round pick was traded to the Braves with outfielder Mallex Smith and infielders Jace Peterson and Dustin Peterson for outfielder Justin Upton and pitcher Aaron Northcraft.
“I was extremely surprised,” Fried said. “I hadn’t picked a baseball up yet at all.”
The Braves were steadfast in their stance that he would not pitch in 2015, instead giving him more than an entire season to recover. It was a nuisance for the young left-hander, but he understood the long-term implications.
His first start in 2016 came 628 days after his last start in the Padres system. Rome pitching coach Dan Meyer advised Fried to be mindful of that time lapse.
“I always say to be a perfectionist, but be a realist,” Meyer said. “You can expect greatness, but you’ve got to be realistic. If you haven’t played any sport in two years, it’s going to take time.”
The stat line from that start showed promise: five innings, three earned runs and four strikeouts. And while his season since that April 9 outing against Augusta hasn’t been perfect, it has shown Fried’s potential remains high.
Through 16 starts, Fried holds a 7-5 record (3.50 ERA) with 84 strikeouts compared with 39 walks in 82 1/3 innings. He was briefly on the disabled list this month with a blister, but returned after an 10-day hiatus to throw two shutout innings July 15.
“He’s improved every outing,” Rome manager Randy Ingle said. “The main thing for him is to finish the year healthy.”
Meyer compared Fried with Rangers starting pitcher Cole Hamels, both left-handed Californians who can really turn it up a notch. Fried possesses a fastball that has touched 96 mph along with two curveballs and a change-up that Meyer said is developing nicely.
Fried said the first half of this season was more about knocking the rust off his arm. With a 1.29 ERA in June, he’s made progerss.
Fried’s goal for the remainder of the season is to become more consistent with command, specifically with his off-speed pitches. From there, he said it’s about putting in the time to eventually deserve a role in Atlanta.
“No one has higher expectations than myself for how I want to perform,” Fried said. “I want to live up to my own expectations and work every day to hopefully one day win a championship for the Atlanta Braves.”