CUMBERLAND — For the first time in his young career, Max Fried will not have to worry about where he will be when the season starts.
The 26-year-old Atlanta Braves left-hander is coming off a year where he went 17-6 with a 4.02 ERA and 173 strikeouts in 165 2/3 innings. He finished second in the National League in victories, trailing only the Washington Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg (18).
Still, Fried said that does not mean he can allow himself to relax just because he had success.
“There’s a lot of stuff I still need to prove,” Fried said Saturday during the Braves’ Chop Fest at Truist Park. “It was a nice year, but for me, I want to come in with the idea I want to win and solidify a job. I want to come in and be the same guy from the last couple of springs, with the same determination and mindset.
“To really take a step back, dissect it and take it all in was really nice, and it was fun, but it’s something I really want to be able to learn from and grow.”
One thing Fried believes will be an advantage this year is the fact he knows what a full major league season is like, and how to handle the different challenges it presents.
“When you are going through it, you don’t have any perspective to look back to compare it to,” Fried said, “so you are going by the seat of your pants, just going through it.”
Another advantage Fried may have is a new mentor in Cole Hamels. Fried said Hamels is the player he is most often compared to, and he is anxious to start learning from the four-time All-Star, who was signed to a $18 million, one-year contract in December.
“Obviously, one of his biggest weapons is one that I’ve been working on for a long time,” Fried said, “so I’m really excited to just pick his brain on his change-up, and different things you may not be able to see from the outside that he’s been able to iron out in his career. Just to be able to pick his brain, see his routine, kind of like we were able to work with Dallas last year.”
Former Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel joined the Braves in June last season and had a calming effect on the rotation, but he signed with the Chicago White Sox as a free agent.
Fried said having Hamels for the whole season will make things better from the start.
“Everything that I’ve heard is he’s an extremely hard worker, extremely dedicated,” Fried said. “I’m excited to see his preparation and what he does day-to-day to get ready for his start.”
One thing Fried could learn is how to pitch past the sixth inning. Only three times was Fried able to pitch more than six innings in 2019, and he pitched exactly six innings 10 times.
The Braves would likely want to see Fried get stretched out a little more, too. Fourteen times, Fried went at least six innings, and in those games, Atlanta went 12-0.
Of course, if the Braves’ reconstructed bullpen — with All-Star reliever Will Smith likely to slide into the closer’s role, alongside the likes of Mark Melancon, Chris Martin, Shane Greene, Darren O’Day and Luke Jackson — is as effective as Fried hopes, it may not be necessary.
“If everyone is able to do their part, it will make everyone’s job a little easier,” Fried said, “but you know you aren’t going to be perfect and everything isn’t always going to go as planned. If you are able to have some really solid guys that are reliable and can pick you up — to know you can have guys come into the game and keep it and give your guys a chance to win there’s something to be said for that.”