Max Fried pitches a ‘Maddux’ as Braves shut out Marlins — in 1 hour, 54 minutes

ATLANTA — Max Fried had a 7.71 ERA through his first four starts, so maybe Atlanta Braves catcher Travis d’Arnaud just had an inkling that he was overdue to pitch a gem. And perhaps d’Arnaud knew that the Miami Marlins were just the right opponent for a return to form from the left-hander.

“A couple of days ago, talking to Travis, he had mentioned in passing, ‘Next time you go out there I want a complete game,’” Fried said Tuesday night, after pitching a three-hit shutout against the Marlins that was not just maximum Fried, but Greg Maddux-like — a 5-0 win that took just 1 hour and 54 minutes, the quickest nine-inning game for the Braves since 2006.

Fried needed only 92 pitches to throw the third nine-inning complete game of his career, all of which have been of the Maddux variety — nine-inning shutouts in less than 100 pitches, so named for the legendary former Braves pitcher, who threw 10 such games in his Hall of Fame career.

“He was rolling, and our defense was really good,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said after the first nine-inning shutout by the Braves since Bryce Elder had one in September, and the first by Fried since he pitched two in 2021. “Yeah, that was fun to watch.”

Fried had no walks with six strikeouts and faced the minimum of 18 batters through six innings. He induced double-play grounders after allowing a third-inning single and again after the first two Marlins reached on a single and an Austin Riley error to start the seventh.

Fried threw 69 strikes in 92 pitches — four fewer than he threw in five innings of his previous start last Wednesday at Houston, where he gave up seven hits, four walks and three runs.

This was a performance so efficient that Snitker never had a reliever warming up in the bullpen — something that rarely happens in this era of pitch limits on starters who are praised for going seven innings.

“He really never gave us a reason to (get anyone up),” said Snitker, whose Braves have fired consecutive shutouts against the Marlins and will go for a three-game sweep Wednesday. “It’s not very often this happens when guys keep their pitch counts like that, where you can allow them to do that. It’s great when they touch that rubber for the ninth inning and know that feeling.”

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Pitcher Max Fried is congratulated by catcher Travis d’Arnaud after his complete game shutout against the Marlins. (Dale Zanine / USA Today)

But how did d’Arnaud have any idea that Fried might be ready for such an outing, when he had pitched more than five innings just once this season — 6 1/3 innings at Miami on April 12 when he allowed four hits, one run and one walk in 84 pitches, easily his best game before Tuesday.

“You know, you’ve got to pump up your guys,” d’Arnaud said, smiling when asked about his complete-game comment to Fried. “Even today, Tui (Braves third-base coach Matt Tuiasosopo) actually said he was feeling one coming with Max. It’s good to get your guys feeling right, especially when the season didn’t start the way you wanted it to.”

Fried said watching Elder pitch 6 2/3 scoreless innings of eight-hit ball with no walks against the Marlins in Monday’s series opener also helped him prepare mentally.

“So, just hearing that (comment from d’Arnaud) and seeing how efficient Bryce was last night, really being on the attack, having a low pitch count early — it just kind of motivated me,” Fried said, “or showed me a little bit of a path of, be on the attack, get contact early and try to attack these guys.”

Of facing the Marlins for the second time in 12 days, he said: “They like to swing, and I was able to get deep into my last start against them — I was in the seventh and I felt pretty good. I just wanted to be on the attack again and force contact. And fortunately for me, balls were going at our guys tonight.”

He was at 49 pitches after five innings.

“When he was through six innings and he was still in the 50-whatever pitch count, the Maddux obviously came in my head,” said d’Arnaud, who had his usual between-innings conversations with catching coach Sal Fasano and fellow catchers Sean Murphy (who’s on the injured list) and Chadwick Tromp, along with Fried. “Just the talk between innings about how to attack their guys and what was working and what wasn’t working, and how we should navigate the rest of the way, is always fun, especially with Max. Because he’s always so in the present with things like that.

“And then he gets my point of view, Sal’s point of view, Murph’s point of view, Trompy’s point of view, and it makes for a beautiful orchestra of ideas that, ultimately, we’re able to get outs fast.”

Besides Maddux, the only other Brave with more “Madduxes” than Fried is Tom Glavine, Maddux’s longtime rotation mate and fellow Hall of Famer, who pitched five such games for the Braves. Pitch-count totals have been kept only since 1988, so the “Maddux” is both an unofficial and relatively recent stat. It’s one most pitchers can only dream about these days.

“I guess that’s become my thing — I think the only nine-inning ones I’ve had were Madduxes,” said Fried, correctly.

His only nine-inning shutouts before Tuesday came five weeks apart in 2021, when he first had a four-hitter with no walks in 90 pitches in a 3-0 win at Baltimore on Aug. 20, and a three-hitter with no walks in 98 pitches in San Diego — a 4-0 win on Sept. 24.

“It’s about creating early contact and having the balls go to our defense,” Fried said of throwing a Maddux, and particularly the one he pitched Tuesday. “Guys made some really nice plays tonight, and that was a lot of fun out there.”

D’Arnaud said Fried had excellent command of all five of his pitches against the Marlins.

“Everything,” d’Arnaud said. “He had his four-seam fastball, he had his sinker, he had his changeup, he had his slider and his cutter, and he had his curveball. So when you have all five pitches and you know exactly where they’re going, usually good things like this happen.”

In two starts against the Marlins this season, Fried is 2-0 with a 0.59 ERA and only seven hits, one run and one walk allowed in 15 1/3 innings. In his other three starts, he has an 11.70 ERA, with 19 hits, 13 earned runs and eight walks in 10 innings.

But Snitker didn’t hesitate when asked if he believed Fried had begun to get back on track.

“Absolutely, there’s no doubt,” he said. “He’s just kind of been trending in the right direction for me in the last three starts, really. Max has impressed me his entire career. It’s just good to see him right himself and get this thing rolling, and what you saw tonight is what he’s capable of.”

D’Arnaud said Tuesday was the kind of performance he and the Braves expect from Fried, the 2022 NL Cy Young Award runner-up and a three-time Opening Day starter for Atlanta before Spencer Strider got that honor this season.

“Very much so,” d’Arnaud said. “Just attacking the zone, attacking whoever’s in the box, trusting all his stuff. Yeah, that’s Max.”

(Top photo: Dale Zanine / USA Today)

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