ATLANTA — Kyle Wright will need to be successful in more than just one start to prove he is ready to live up to his tremendous potential. But as he cruised through six scoreless innings in a 2-1 win over the Reds on Saturday night at Truist Park, the Braves’ right-hander looked like a new man, or more specifically, one still basking in the confidence gained during last year’s great World Series appearance.
“I felt like I really got my confidence back at the end of last year,” Wright said. “I took it into the World Series, and then into Spring Training. It’s one thing to say you feel confident, but to actually do it in a regular-season game … I felt like myself.”
As Wright surrendered just two hits and retired 10 of the final 11 Reds batters he faced, he looked like the dominant hurler he was when the Braves took him with the fifth overall selection in the 2017 MLB Draft. Over the past few seasons, he had looked more like a bewildered prospect who was rushed to the Majors before finding himself.
Before Saturday’s strong performance, Wright had produced a 6.93 ERA in 14 career regular-season starts. If including the postseason, he had completed five innings in just six of 16 starts. So it’s easy to understand why the Braves were so encouraged after seeing Wright record a strike with 56 of his 76 pitches Saturday. The Reds whiffed with eight of 18 swings against the curveball.
“It’s great,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “It’s what you were looking for and what you knew he was capable of. But what he’s capable of, and going out and doing it, are two completely different things.”
Everything seemed to change during last year’s World Series, when Wright silenced his critics and proved he truly had benefited from the chance to spend a majority of the 2021 season experiencing uninterrupted development at the Triple-A level. Instead of being shuttled back and forth from the Minors to the Majors, he was given a chance to learn.
“I just think he looked like a completely different guy from the outset of Spring Training, when he came in a little more focused and driven,” Snitker said. “I think the best thing that happened to that kid was he spent a whole year at Triple-A. He pitched and figured out who he was and changed some things.”
If Wright is finally right, he would team with Max Fried, Charlie Morton and Ian Anderson to give the Braves four strong starters at the front of their rotation. Wright’s only previous taste of somewhat extended success at the big league level occurred in 2020, when he had a few good starts late in September, and one more during the postseason.
But as Wright allowed seven runs while totaling just 6 1/3 innings in his two starts for Atlanta last year, he showed he wasn’t ready. His preparation occurred as he posted a 2.18 ERA over the 13 starts he made for Triple-A Gwinnett from July 21-Oct. 2. In the process, he began lessening the use of his four-seamer and increasing the effectiveness of both his two-seamer and changeup.
“As much as it sucked being [at Triple-A], I felt it was the place I needed to be,” Wright said.
When the Triple-A season ended, Wright went to the team’s alternate training site, just in case he was needed at some point during the postseason. He wasn’t called upon during the first two rounds, but he was added to Atlanta’s roster to be a long reliever during the World Series. He struck out the only three batters he faced while working mop-up duty in the eighth inning of Atlanta’s Game 2 loss.
Little did he or anybody else know, but that outing gave him the confidence and comfort he would find a few days later, when he entered Game 4 with the bases loaded and one out in the first inning. He limited the damage to one run in that frame and allowed just one run over 4 2/3 innings. His effort set the stage for Dansby Swanson and Jorge Soler to lead the Braves to a comeback win with back-to-back homers in the seventh.
“I’m confident in myself,” Wright said. “Using the World Series is a great way to boost that confidence. I feel like I’m where I need to be, and I feel like I’m doing the right things.”