Phillies Playoffs

Fried's finger an important storyline leading into Phillies-Braves Game 2

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Taryn Hatcher reports from Atlanta on Zack Wheeler taking the mound in Game 2 in his hometown.

ATLANTA — After beating flamethrower Spencer Strider in Game 1 of the NLDS, the Phillies will see a much different sort of starting pitcher in Game 2 in Max Fried.

And all eyes will be on his left index finger.

Fried missed his final two regular-season starts with a blister, a problem he dealt with in the minor leagues and toward the beginning of his major-league career. He was activated from the injured list Saturday as the Phillies and Braves began their Divisional Series and says he's recovered.

"It's kind of been a narrative that I've had throughout my career in the big leagues, something that I've had to monitor and just kind of deal with and battle through," he said over the weekend.

"Right now as far as visuals and the way it feels, it just feels like my finger is healed and back to normal."

The Braves had intrasquad games during their long layoff to prepare for the divisional round. It didn't seem to help their offense, which was shut out at home in Game 1 for the first time in more than two years.

Fried appeared in an intrasquad game Tuesday and threw 76 pitches over five innings. He is ready for Monday night, but if the blister is aggravated or rips open, it could be a short start and a benefit to the Phillies.

"There's always a concern about that," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "But everything went great in the intrasquad. He got the ups we needed, the pitches. The finger held up really well. So he's good to go as far as we're concerned."

While Strider averages 98 mph with his fastball, Fried is more 93-94 with command and movement, a lefty who reads swings and makes on-the-fly adjustments.

Fried has been one of the National League's top starters the last four seasons, going 43-15 with a 2.66 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in 83 starts. He's faced the Phillies 10 times in the regular season over that span and has a 2.78 ERA with 62 strikeouts in 55 innings. He's allowed only four home runs.

One of his worst starts against the Phillies came in Game 1 of the 2022 NLDS when he allowed six runs (four earned) on eight hits without making it out of the fourth inning. But Fried, like Strider, was not fully healthy last October. He dealt with a stomach issue heading into the NLDS, a viral infection that turned into a bacterial infection.

"I mean, obviously not the most ideal situations coming in, not all the way healthy, missing some time going into the playoffs, but physically, my body and the way that I'm feeling this year versus last year is night and day different," Fried said.

"I think I've faced this Phillies team just about more than anyone in my career. They know what I have. I know what they have. There's no secrets. It's just toeing the rubber and executing and throwing the pitches that I need to and just whoever executes the best that day.

"I know that they're not going to give me anything. They're extremely disciplined. They're great hitters and they play good baseball, especially when it matters most and they need to win. When they need to shorten up and go the other way, they do that. If they need to go for a long ball, they're able to do that. They're extremely versatile, and you know you have to bring your A-game to be able to navigate through that kind of lineup and give your team a chance to win."

The Phillies will counter with their ace, Zack Wheeler, who has a 2.55 ERA in seven playoff starts over the last 12 months.

The Braves tied the major-league record this season with 307 home runs and set the record by slugging .501 as a team, but Wheeler pitched as well against them in 2023 as anyone. He struck out 12 over eight scoreless innings in Atlanta on Memorial Day Weekend. He held the Braves to one run over six innings at Truist Park on September 18. In between, they got to him for a three-homer game. In Wheeler's three starts, the Braves went 13-for-70, hitting .186.

Wheeler is from nearby Smyrna and has always pitched well against his hometown team with a 3.18 ERA in 27 career starts.

"They know what I'm going to do to them, and I know what they're going to do to me," he said Saturday. "It's kind of this cat-and-mouse game, especially when you face people so many times. And facing people who are really good, you have to play cat-and-mouse all the time, but don't try to outdo yourself at the same time, pitch to your strengths and just go off of that.

"Coming back here every year is awesome, but especially during the playoffs, big moments, and a lot of people come out and watch. So it's definitely going to be fun to pitch here in front of friends and family and hopefully we get a win."

First pitch for Game 2 is Monday at 6:07 p.m. on TBS.

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