CUMBERLAND — Max Fried finds himself in a strange position.
He and Mike Soroka, the Atlanta Braves’ starting pitcher in Wednesday night’s home opener against the Tampa Bay Rays, have not only become the aces of the staff, but the veterans in the starting rotation — despite the fact that Fried is 26 years old and Soroka only 22.
It was not supposed to be this way.
The Braves had originally signed a pair of veterans in former American League Cy Young Award winner Felix Rodriguez and four-time All-Star Cole Hamels, but it looks like neither will make an impact,
Rodriguez opted out of the season because of the coronavirus pandemic, while Hamels was placed on the 45-day injured list as he deals with a triceps issue. In addition, the Braves designated former All-Star Mike Foltynewicz for assignment after a struggle-filled outing against the Rays on Monday, which leaves young arms like Sean Newcomb (27), Kyle Wright (24) and Touki Toussaint (22) in the position of having to grow up quickly and into their potential.
Braves manager Brian Snitker said before Wednesday’s game that the team will need to stay with the young pitchers and help them develop. Fried agreed, adding that he believes good things are on the horizon.
“When you are young, you are kind of unsure,” said Fried, who is 19-11 with a 3.83 ERA now one start into his fourth season in the big leagues. “The only way you are going to learn is with experience, so we are going to go out there and learn from our mistakes, and each outing is going to help us in the future.”
With only 57 games under his belt, Fried said that while the Braves may not have the experience in the rotation for the young guys to turn to, there are plenty of veterans who they can learn from for some of the finer points of the game, including position players like Freddie Freeman, Marcel Ozuna and Tyler Flowers. Fried, though, also added that there are still plenty of pitchers — like Josh Tomlin, Shane Greene and Mark Melancon — who he and his mates in the rotation can seek out if they need help.
“We have a lot of experience in the bullpen, where there are a lot of guys who have been doing this for a long time,” Fried said, “so we can ask questions and maybe shorten that learning curve.”
With the shortened 60-game season, each start Fried and Soroka make may take on more significance, especially if the other young pitchers’ performances continue to be sporadic, like they were to open the season against the New York Mets and the Rays. Despite that, Fried said he can only go out and do his job the best he can every five days.
“Obviously, you know how important it is, and the importance of each game is obviously a lot bigger,” Fried said. “You want to go out there and do your best, but, at the same time, you can’t allow one bad one to snowball and allow three or four, so you have to stop it in its place.”
Fried, who pitched five innings and allowed two runs on two hits and struck out five in his first start of the season at New York, will get the ball Thursday at Truist Park. Heading into Wednesday’s game, the Braves had been handled by the Rays in their first two meetings of the season at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Fried said he hopes to get the team back in the win column.
“(The Rays) are really good hitters,” he said. “They are going to take good pitches. They are very disciplined. They do the right things. They go the other way with it, they hit for power, they move the runners over, they play the game the right way, so it’s just going out there working my game plan and trusting those guys behind me to make some plays.”