May 25, 2024

Braves combined no-hitter spoiled by J.D. Martinez in ninth inning after dominant Max Fried start

J.D. Martinez’s two-out homer in the ninth inning spoiled what would’ve been the Atlanta Braves’ first no-hitter in three decades, but it did nothing to tarnish the third dominant performance by Max Fried in his past four starts.

When Martinez walked to the plate with two outs in the ninth inning, he said he wasn’t thinking about the fact the New York Mets hadn’t yet recorded a hit. Instead, he said he focused on his plan against Raisel Iglesias, and looked for a pitch up in the strike zone.

“You can’t get caught up in all of that,” Martinez said. “Then you start putting all this excess pressure on yourself. For what? You get no-hit? Who cares? Tomorrow is another day.”

Well, what about after finally getting the hit, connecting for a home run? “No,” Martinez said. “We’re still losing, 4-1.”

Fried’s seven hitless innings and his recent return to form was the most important aspect of Saturday’s 4-1 win against the New York Mets at Citi Field for the Braves.

They need the left-hander to be at his best if they are to reach their lofty goals, especially with Spencer Strider out for the year including postseason after elbow surgery following just his second start of the season.

And lately it’s been maximum Fried, indeed, with a three-hit shutout and two hitless outings in his past four starts.

This from a guy who had the worst back-to-back starts of his career to begin the season, failing to make it out of the first inning in the second game of the season at Philadelphia, and allowing 10 hits and seven earned runs in 4 1/3 innings of his second start April 6 against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

He’s eligible for free agency after this season, and it couldn’t have gotten off to a much worse start for Fried.

After getting back on track with two solid starts in mid-April at Miami and at Houston, Fried threw a three-hit shutout in 92 pitches against the Marlins on April 23, with no walks and six strikeouts. Then he allowed no hits and two walks through six scoreless innings at Seattle on April 29 before leaving that game because he’d thrown 100 pitches.

He gave up four hits and four runs in seven innings Sunday at Dodger Stadium, but on Saturday Fried was at peak form again, allowing only three walks in seven scoreless innings with five strikeouts. He was replaced by Joe Jiménez to start the eighth only because Fried’s pitch count was at 109, a high amount in this era and only one shy of his career-most pitches.

Jiménez pitched a hitless eighth with two walks and two strikeouts, and the Braves were one out away with nobody on base before closer Iglesias gave up a first-pitch homer to Martinez, ending the no-hit and shutout bids in one swing. Jeff McNeil followed with a walk before Iglesias gave up another hit to Harrison Bader, an infield single.

He got Brett Baty to line out to center to end the game.

For Fried, those four runs last weekend at Dodger Stadium are the only runs against him in 29 innings over his past four starts, during which he’s allowed just seven hits and eight walks with 25 strikeouts. His 1.24 ERA over that four-start stretch has reduced his overall ERA down to 3.57, more than four runs below his ERA through four starts (7.71).

For a team with as rich of a pitching pedigree as the Braves have, it’s rather stunning that they’ve not pitched a no-hitter since Kent Mercker threw one against the Dodgers in Los Angeles on April 8, 1994.

None of the Big Three — Hall of Famers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz — pitched a no-hitter for Atlanta. The Braves have pitched just three no-hitters since the team moved to Atlanta in 1966.

Hall of Fame knuckleballer Phil Niekro pitched a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres in Atlanta on Aug. 5, 1973, and Mercker combined with Mark Wohlers and Alejandro Peña for a no-hitter on Sept. 11 1991, also against the Padres in Atlanta.

And that’s it. Two solo no-hitters and one combined three-pitcher no-no for the Braves, who were one out away from adding to that list Saturday.

The Mets (18-20) have lost the first two games of a seven-game stretch against the Braves and Phillies, two of the best teams in the National League, residing in their division. This part of the schedule may help inform what kind of team New York is.

So far, they’ve looked middling; reasons for both concern and optimism remain, and people within the team suggest they just need to tread water for a while. Fried flummoxed the Mets by mixing up his pitches well, effectively using different parts of the zone with his curveball and fastball.

“He’s tough because you don’t know which way his ball is going to go — if it’s going to come in, if it’s going to go away, if it’s going to go down, if it’s going to go up,” Martinez said. “He’s just a really good pitcher. It’s not a fun at bat.”

Martinez, who hit three balls hard, appears to be headed in a good direction for the Mets, but other issues around the team linger.

Brandon Nimmo left the game in the fifth inning with what the Mets described as “right intercostal irritation.” The club has no plans of sending him for an MRI, manager Carlos Mendoza said. Mendoza added that he wasn’t too concerned about the injury. Nimmo said he thought he could avoid the injured list.

Elsewhere, though, the Mets don’t seem as fortunate. Reliever Brooks Raley is not close to throwing and acknowledged before the game that he is dealing with bone spurs and some level of UCL damage in his left elbow.

Raley will meet with Dr. Keith Meister on Tuesday to explore surgical and non-surgical options.

The Mets are also waiting on Kodai Senga to return from a shoulder injury. Senga paused facing live batters as he works through mechanical issues, Mendoza said. It’s unclear when he will make a rehab appearance.

On Saturday, Christian Scott made his home debut. He was solid — but not nearly as good as Fried. Scott pitched six innings, and allowed three runs, six hits and two walks with eight strikeouts.

Required reading

(Photo: Jim McIsaac / Getty Images)