Max Fried's concerning first-inning struggles set off alarm bells for Braves fans

Atlanta's southpaw ace hasn't looked like himself in the early part of 2024.
Arizona Diamondbacks v Atlanta Braves
Arizona Diamondbacks v Atlanta Braves / Kevin C. Cox/GettyImages
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Things haven't necessarily gone to plan for Max Fried in what could be his final year with the Atlanta Braves. He failed to escape from the first inning during his first start of the year, albeit due to a horrific missed call by the home plate umpire.

Regardless of that missed call, the Phillies were all over him during his start on the road in Philly. Fried allowed three runs on two hits with three walks and one strikeout through 0.2 innings on 42 pitches. However, fans chalked that up to a rare bad outing but his second start was more of the same.

Atlanta fans were already down after learning Spencer Strider suffered a UCL injury and may miss the entire season. So, when Fried pitched in Saturday's contest with the Diamondbacks, they hoped he could lift their spirits a bit.

Unfortunately, that didn't happen as Arizona tagged Fried for six runs in the first inning. The Diamondbacks sent 11 batters to the plate and were all over his pitches. It's not encouraging to see one of your aces struggle like that.

Fried did escape the first inning but it wasn't an easy outing. He struggled mightily to find his command and his fastball velocity was a bit down as well. Max just never looked comfortable on the mound.

He managed to complete 4.1 innings allowing seven runs on 10 hits with one walk and five strikeouts. After this, he handed things over to an Atlanta Braves bullpen that has been lights out to start the season. They were the MVPs of the weekend. Yes, the offense did the heavy lifting and brought the team back after two nights of being behind early. However, the bullpen kept things close the entire weekend, allowing the offense to do its thing.

Should Braves fans be concerned about Max Fried?

Fried struggled with these issues in Spring Training and it has followed him into the regular season. However, is there a legitimate reason to be concerned or is this just a rough patch?

Atlanta's southpaw ended Spring with a 5.79 ERA through 14.0 innings with seven walks and nine strikeouts. That was not an encouraging ratio of walks to strikeouts as it indicated Fried was struggling mightily with command.

That has been one of the main factors plaguing him in the regular season. His command has been a bit off and that's placed him in deep counts or allowed teams to crush the ball. Fried is at his best when he can locate his fastball and get a great spin on the curveball.

So far this season he has an 18.00 ERA through 5 total innings with 10 earned runs, 12 hits, four walks, and six strikeouts. Some bad luck has been involved if you look at his first start in Philadelphia where he didn't escape the first inning despite throwing strike three to Castellanos but the umpire horribly missed the call, forcing the inning to continue.

However, mostly it's the lack of command that's killing him. Teams are barreling up his pitches as his sweet spot percentage is at an alarming 40.9% and exit velocity off his pitches sits at 114.4 mph which is in the bottom 2% of baseball. Not only that but his .476 wOBA is in the bottom 7% of the league as well. Those numbers are a must to improve if he hopes to have a good season.

Max is going to have to figure that out especially with Spencer Strider likely missing the entire season. The Braves went from having one of the best starting rotations to now losing their ace and the former ace struggling horribly. It's not an ideal situation for the team to be in just two weeks into the season.

For the most part, I lean on the side of caution and believe Max is just going through a bit of a bad stretch. He's too good of a pitcher to stay in this kind of struggle for too long. The season is still early and there is still time to make adjustments and turn things around. His teammates aren't worried about him and know the competitor Fried is so they know he can fix this.

However, it's perfectly fine to be concerned that he may not be the same pitcher we are used to. There's something about a final contract year that can affect a player's performance. They either overperform or underperform expectations. Hopefully, Max can overcome his issues and be the dependable starter Braves fans know and love.

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