AP photo by Manuel Balce Ceneta / Atlanta Braves starter Max Fried delivers to a Washington Nationals batter during a road game in September 2019. Fried went 17-6 with an ERA of 4.02 last season, striking out 173 batters and walking 47 in 165 2/3 innings.

NORTH PORT, Fla. — Max Fried throws a firm fastball, and his repertoire of pitches features a sharp curve. Both were keys to a breakout season last year with the Atlanta Braves.

Moving ahead, he's focusing on a few other factors that aren't so easily apparent.

Fried has been working on meditation. He believes in visualization. He incorporates breathing into his movements while working out, also using it as a way to calm down and relax.

"I think a big step I can take is taking the mental game to the next level," Fried said. "There's only so much your body can do before you break down. Meditation helps because there's a lot of stress on the field, high pressure. You have to find ways to calm yourself down and take a relaxed approach."

The left-hander who turned 26 last month already has made huge strides.

Fried went 17-6 with a 4.02 ERA last season as Atlanta won its second straight National League East Division title. In 30 starts and 165 2/3 innings, he walked just 47 batters while striking out 173.

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Atlanta Braves pitcher Max Fried

From being open to new ideas, plus working with a good support system and a psychologist, Fried has learned to prepare yet adapt.

"I noticed the more preparation I did and the more prepared I was, it felt easier and fun," he said. "But you can go in and have all the plans in the world, but if that first hitter hits a home run, things change real quick. You can't be too set on a game plan. It's a game where you have to make adjustments, some that are completely opposite of what the planning was before the game.

"The more experiences you have, good and bad, the better. They give you different perspectives and you grow from it."

Fried made his MLB debut late in 2017 and was called up early in 2018, striking out 44 batters in 33 2/3 innings that year. He started last season in the bullpen before moving into the rotation and making 30 starts, though his four postseason innings in 2019 came in relief.

"You look at Max," Braves manager Brian Snitker said, "and quietly he had one of the best seasons in the National League. The last couple of years, he's been fighting through physical things and battling his way back. He learned a lot the last couple of years, he put it together, and the sky is the limit."

Fried isn't retiring batters only by outthinking them. He consistently throws around 94 mph, and his curve ranks among the top five in the majors in vertical movement. His spin rate is far above the average, and he often does it while throwing the ball at less than 75 mph.

"He's on the right track trying to get more spin," Braves catcher Tyler Flowers said. "When you have spin access, you get depth. You also hit the spots you want."

Fried, meanwhile, said he didn't pay too much attention to his record last year.

"We're preached to all the time about the process," Fried said. "It's really hard to take that and implement that and focus and do the same things, the same routine and be the best version of yourself. But the results will be there, and the trust has to be there even when the results are not always there."

He has done fine so far.

"I have so much to learn," the California native said. "I ask a lot of questions, and these are things they tell me. I just wished I learned them when I was 18.

"I think you have to be a lifelong learner. When I first got drafted, the philosophy was completely different. Baseball goes in waves every five, 10 years. You're changing and adapting and staying current so you survive. There's a lot of things that can be lost along the way."


Quick chops

* Teammates and coaches gave 35-year-old right-hander Josh Tomlin a warm welcome when he arrived to start spring training last week, not long after he signed a minor league deal with the Braves with a chance to make the big league roster.

Tomlin, who made his MLB debut in 2010, had spent his entire career with the Cleveland Indians before going to spring training with the Milwaukee Brewers last year, getting released, then signing with the Braves.

He made a career-high 51 appearances and went 2-1 with a 3.74 ERA while working mostly in long and middle relief in 2019, though he did have the first two saves of his 10-year career. He was a starter most of his time in Cleveland, winning 10-plus games three times.

Tomlin tested the market in the offseason before deciding last week to stick with Atlanta.

"I was so happy to see him walk in the door," Snitker said. "He's an integral part of everything we do. The person he is, the pro he is. He brings instant credibility."

* Johan Camargo, who will compete with Austin Riley for the starting spot at third base, showed up to camp 18 pounds lighter than last year. The 6-foot 26-year-old from Panama has gone from 205 to 187.

During the team's fan event last month in Atlanta, Camargo told the AP he is still working on strength but has also emphasized quickness and speed to help his defense.

"I just prepare myself like I just want to be healthy," Camargo said at the time. "To be honest, I know what I can do. I've done that before. I've just got confidence in me."

* Atlanta-area native Flowers, 34, is entering his fifth season with the Braves after starting his career with the Chicago White Sox.

He has grown accustomed to platooning behind the plate, but he will have a new partner in that regard this season as Travis d'Arnaud joins the club on a two-year deal. Flowers has no trouble sharing.

"I don't want to play 150 games," he said. "I'd be done. The climate in Atlanta is so hard. I don't know how Brian McCann did it."