ATLANTA — Max Fried will make his first opening day start for the Atlanta Braves, getting the nod in the wake of two stellar seasons.
Manager Brian Snitker told Fried on Thursday that he would have the ball in the season opener April 1, when the Braves start a three-game road series against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Fried went 7-0 with a 2.25 ERA last season, finishing fifth in the National League Cy Young Award balloting after he established himself as Atlanta's ace when Mike Soroka went down with a torn Achilles' tendon. The 27-year-old left-hander's breakout season came two years ago, when he posted a 17-6 record after moving into the rotation early in the schedule.
"It's been really neat to be with Max through this whole run, to watch him mature and become the pitcher that he is," Snitker said.
With Soroka — who started on opening day last year — still rehabbing from his injury, Fried was the logical choice to get the nod next Thursday, when the Phillies will counter with Aaron Nola, a 27-year-old right-hander who was an All-Star in 2018, when he went 17-6.
Still, it was a thrill for Fried to get the word officially.
"I was excited," he said. "It's something you dream about, something you work for. To actually have (Snitker) walk up to me this morning to tell me was pretty special."
While this is Fried's first start on opening day of a Major League Baseball season, it won't be the first time he has pitched in the first game. Two years ago, he came out of the bullpen and threw a scoreless inning in a 10-4 loss to the Phillies.
"I was trying to get my bearings and figure out who I was as far as a pitcher," Fried recalled.
He made one more relief appearance that season before moving into the rotation, where he's been a fixture ever since.
"I definitely feel way more established," Fried said. "I'm more confident in who I am and what I can do as a pitcher. I tried to take those experiences and learn from them. I want to make adjustments and keep growing. I feel like there's a lot of things I can still get better at."
Fried leads a rotation that could be one of baseball's best. Ian Anderson is heading into his first full season after a stellar debut last year, when Atlanta won its third straight NL East Division title and came within a win of reaching the World Series. Veterans Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly were signed in free agency to add depth. Bryse Wilson has impressed in spring training and will likely be the fifth starter, though Soroka's return is not too far away.
"I like our chances against anyone," Fried said.
Soroka, who went 13-4 with a 2.68 ERA in 2019 and was an All-Star that year, has been taking part in simulated games to ensure he's fully recovered.
Said Snitker: "Everything is going really, really good for him right now."