December 9, 2022

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Strengthened by Vandy bond, Wright and Swanson bolster Braves

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ATLANTA — Dansby Swanson and Kyle Wright share a strong bond that extends back to 2015, when Wright was a freshman pitcher and Swanson was a junior shortstop at Vanderbilt University. They fell just short of helping the Commodores win a second straight College World Series that year. But they did celebrate a World Series title with Atlanta last year. 

Now, as the Braves bid for a second straight ring, they’re leaning heavily on these Vandy Boys, who both impressed again in Sunday’s 7-3, 11-inning loss to the Padres. Swanson created all the early offense and Wright further highlighted his breakthrough season with yet another impressive start.

“[Wright] has been pretty electric in multiple ways with multiple pitches,” Swanson said. “It’s a shame we couldn’t hold it down for the rest of the game for him. But he’s been great.”  

Bouncing back from his only rough start of the season, Wright showed his enhanced moxie while recording nine strikeouts and allowing just one earned run over 6 1/3 innings. A couple defensive miscues accounted for two unearned runs on Wright’s line. The errors also erased a three-run lead Swanson had created with a headsy baserunning play and a two-run homer off Padres starter Joe Musgrove.

Instead of ending an eight-game homestand on a positive note, the Braves headed to Milwaukee with a 16-19 record. This isn’t the way they wanted to start the season. But things would be much worse without the strides both Swanson and Wright have made this year.  

“Anything [Swanson] gets, he deserves,” Wright said. “He works for it all. He’s a winner. He hates losing. Whenever we lose, he just seems to get after it. I feel like that’s when he steps up and continues to play better.”

When Wright and Swanson helped Vanderbilt reach the 2015 CWS Finals, the former was earning his stripes as a reliever and the latter was being recognized as the top overall pick in that summer’s MLB Draft. The Braves acquired Swanson from the D-backs in December 2015 and then used the fifth overall pick in the 2017 Draft to take Wright.  

The first couple years at the MLB level weren’t easy for either player. But as Swanson further established himself at the game’s top level, he provided constant support for Wright, who has taken his game and mental strength to new levels since making two impressive relief appearances in last year’s World Series. 

Wright produced a 1.74 ERA through his first five starts of the season and then allowed six runs during the second inning of Tuesday’s loss to the Red Sox. He has allowed just one earned run over the nine innings that have followed, which is not what you’d expect from a guy who entered this year with a 6.56 career ERA.   

“I thought he was really, really good,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I think he’s continuing to adjust and make adjustments on the fly. I thought he adjusted well [Tuesday] after he gave up all the runs in one inning.”

Wright worked on pacing his delivery this week and was in total control as he retired 12 of the first 13 batters faced on Sunday. His fifth-inning leadoff walk to Jurickson Profar wouldn’t have been a problem had Matt Olson caught William Contreras’ pickoff attempt later in the frame. Olson’s error allowed Profar to score from second base. Just before Wright was lifted in the seventh, Austin Riley’s inability to field a Robinson Canó grounder set the stage for Wil Myers to score on Austin Nola’s game-tying sacrifice fly. 

Wright has allowed one or zero earned runs in four of his first seven starts. How far has he come? Well, he entered this year having completed five innings in just five of 14 career regular season starts.  

As for Swanson, he entered Sunday leading all MLB players with 8 outs above average and 7.8 defensive runs above average (a FanGraphs metric). He produced an ugly .432 OPS through his 14 first games, but has produced a team-best .903 OPS over the 21 games that have followed.

At the same time, the veteran shortstop has continued to be a competitive leader and positive influence on guys like Wright. 

“He looks at me as a friend first and as a baseball player second,” Wright said. “I think that’s a big part of it, just having real authentic relationships. He’s always had my back through the ups and downs. I know he’s expressed to people he believes in me. I’m happy to be able to prove it a little bit.”

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