Southern notes: Braves' Fried looking forward

Southpaw settling into Double-A after injury scare on Opening Day

After leaving his first outing early, Max Fried tossed six strong innings in his second start for Double-A Mississippi on Saturday. (Chris Robertson)

By Guy Curtright / Special to MiLB.com | April 20, 2017 10:00 AM ET

The concern wasn't limited to Trustmark Park when Max Fried had to leave his Opening Day start for Mississippi in the middle of an at-bat during the second inning. Even the hint of significant injury was a scary proposition for Fried as well as the Atlanta Braves organization as a whole.

After all, it wasn't until the later part of last year that the seventh overall pick in the 2012 Draft by San Diego reestablished himself fully as a prime pitching prospect after missing nearly two full seasons in the wake of Tommy John surgery.

It turned out, though, that it wasn't Fried's elbow that was bothering him this time, nor any other part of his left arm. Instead, it was just muscle spasms that had forced him from the mound.

"I'd never had anything like that before," said Fried, ranked as the Braves' No. 8 prospect. "Once the trainer and doctor told me it was nothing major, I felt a lot better about it. But it was frustrating to have to come out of the game."

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Fried, ranked as the No. 8 prospect in the Braves' talent-laden system, ended up not having to go on the seven-day disabled list and technically didn't even miss a start.

Pushed from the front to the back of the prospect-laden Mississippi rotation, Fried pitched the first game of a doubleheader at Tennessee on Saturday and quickly showed he was no worse for wear.

Fried needed just 71 pitches over six innings while allowing only two hits and a run to the Smokies and would have gotten credit for his first Double-A victory had the bullpen held the one-run lead.

"It felt pretty good," said Fried, who walked two and struck out four. "I just wanted to get as many quick outs as I could and give my team a chance to win. It was good to be back out there."

Fried, 23, had looked anything but comfortable in his first start, giving up four runs (two earned) in 1 2/3 innings to visiting Jacksonville and needing 59 pitches in the abbreviated outing. The left-hander kept trying to stretch out his back and several times stumbled at the end of his delivery. After the last misstep, he bent over and put his hands on his knees.

Soon manager Luis Salazar and athletic trainer T.J. Saunders were on the mound.

"I didn't feel comfortable from the start, but it was Opening Day and I tried to pitch through it," Fried said. "Finally, I couldn't."

Fried knows what it's like to deal with a major injury. He was just a few months into his recovery from Tommy John surgery when he was dealt by the Padres to Atlanta on Dec. 19, 2014 in the trade for slugger Justin Upton.

Of the four players the Braves received, the 6-foot-4 Fried was looked at as the prime piece. But after pitching little the previous season in the Padres system, he would miss all of 2015 with the Braves and get off to slow start last season.

Fried, though, flourished in the second half with Class A Rome and then dominated in the South Atlantic League playoffs. He pitched the two deciding games as Rome won the title, posting a 1.23 ERA while recording 24 strikeouts to four walks in 14 2/3 innings.

Given a chance to pitch in three Grapefruit League games for Atlanta, Fried impressed even more.

"Max served notice that he is not far away from helping us win games at the Major League level," Braves general manager John Coppolella said. "He was extremely impressive in every way this spring."

After missing nearly two full seasons, Fried is back on the fast track. Of course, in the Braves system he is not alone. The Mississippi rotation also includes 19-year-olds Kolby Allard and Mike Soroka, ranked as Atlanta's No. 3 and No. 4 prospects, respectively, and both on MLB.com's Top 100 list.

"Being together, I think it gives us extra motivation," Fried said. "We all want to get a chance to move up, of course, but I don't think of it as competing. We just push each other and that helps our team. We all want to do well."

In brief

On the mend: Chattanooga began the season with two of Minnesota's top pitching prospects still working their back into shape in Florida after shoulder issues. Stephen Gonsalves is ranked No. 2 with the Twins overall and No. 88 among all prospects by MLB.com, while fellow left-hander Tyler Jay is No. 5 with the Twins after being the sixth overall choice in the 2015 Draft. Gonsalves excelled after being promoted from Fort Myers to Chattanooga last season, going 8-1 with a 1.82 ERA in 13 starts. Jay, though, showed the effects of his first full Minor League season and missed the final month because of a neck strain. After time as a starter, the Twins are moving Jay back to the bullpen, his role in college at Illinois.

Switching sides: Nick Ramirez led the Southern League in RBIs in 2014 and made the All-Star Game as a hitter two of the past three seasons. But the former two-way player at Cal State Fullerton is making the switch from first base to the mound with Biloxi at age 27, and the left-hander got off to a good start in relief for the Shuckers. The fourth-round Draft choice by Milwaukee in 2011 picked up a victory and was charged with just one unearned run over 5 1/3 innings in his first five appearances. Ramirez, who had 47 home runs the past three seasons, also showed that he can still go deep at the plate, smacking a pinch-hit homer in his first at-bat of the year.

Brother act: The Southern League All-Star Game featured a pair of brothers last year in hitters D.J. and Dustin Peterson, and it could happen again if pitchers Tyler and Greg Mahle are around come June. Right-hander Tyler, Cincinnati's No. 10 prospect, won his first three starts with Pensacola while posting a 1.02 ERA and 0.58 WHIP. Older brother Greg, who spent time in the Majors with the Los Angeles Angels in 2016, got a save for Mobile on Opening Day while Tyler was getting a win for Pensacola, and split time in April between the BayBears and Triple-A Salt Lake.

Guy Curtright is a contributor to MiLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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