NORTH PORT, Fla. -- Kyle Wright’s right shoulder feels better than it did during any of the past three seasons. But the Braves right-hander is gradually making up for time lost in January, when he halted his normal preparations for three weeks following a cortisone injection.
“Most of the guys during the offseason have to get over that hump to get going again, I just couldn’t get there,” Wright said. “Then once I [got the injection and rested] I was like, ‘Wow, this is how it’s supposed to feel.'”
The good news is Wright’s shoulder feels better and stronger than it did while he constructed MLB’s only 20-win season last year.
The reality is he is slightly behind schedule after having to restart his throwing program just a couple weeks ago. The Braves have mapped out a plan for Wright to be ready for the start of the regular season. But to ensure the 27-year-old hurler’s preparations aren’t rushed, he likely won’t make any starts during the first couple weeks of the Grapefruit League season.
If Wright can make at least three starts during the exhibition season, he’ll have a chance to get his pitch count to approximately 60. This would create an opportunity for him to be lined up to throw approximately 75-80 pitches in his regular season debut.
Instead of making his debut during the three-game, season-opening series at Nationals Park, he might make it a few days later, when the Braves end a two-city road trip in St. Louis. The key is he’s not expected to begin the season on the injured list.
“I’m just building strength back up,” Wright said. “It’s kind of a blessing in disguise to almost hit the reset button. You start from square one and start strengthening the right things.”
How strong does the shoulder feel?
"I feel whole, healthy and fresh again for the first time since about 2020,” Wright said. “It’s nice. You forget what it’s supposed to feel like because you’re just kind of used to it. So far, I feel great. I’m excited about hopefully keeping the same feeling my whole career.”
Wright entered 2022 with a 6.56 ERA through 14 career starts and there was reason to wonder if he’d ever live up to the expectations set when the Braves selected him with the fifth overall pick in the 2017 MLB Draft.
Wright lessened concerns as he tallied 21 wins, posted a 3.19 ERA and then legitimized his regular season success by tossing six scoreless innings in a Game 2 win over the Phillies during the National League Division Series.
“Until they go through it, they’re just pulling the layers off to become a successful Major Leaguer,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I saw him do that last year. I think he knows a little bit more now about himself and who he is.”
How did Wright find himself? Well, he essentially ditched the slider he used too frequently the previous two seasons and made the curveball his primary pitch. He used the curve 14.3 percent of the time in 2021 and 34.1 percent in 2022. Opponents continued to have success against his four-seamer, but he used it less frequently and made his two-seamer (sinker) the second most-used pitch of his arsenal.
But Wright’s greatest strides may have been made from a mental perspective. Braves mental performance coach Zach Sorensen has helped Wright gain a stronger perspective with a practice called "Well, Better, How?"
“It‘s really the best way to evaluate outings,” Wright said. “So I look at what did I do well? How am I going to do it better? And how am I going to do it? That has allowed me to move on from outings, whether it's a good start or a bad start.
“I take what I need to take from the game and then move on. Whereas before, I'd always kind of struggle with holding on to things for too long, taking bad outings into the next one, and then things just kind of spiral.”
Wright spent last year building his confidence and he took time this winter to address a cranky shoulder. It might be challenging to produce a second straight 20-win season. But the revitalized hurler is positioned to improve.
“There’s a lot of things I can clean up to be even better this year,” Wright said. “That’s my goal.”