World Series pressure helps Wright rediscover poise

March 23rd, 2022

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- While he must prove he’s finally ready to live up to expectations, Braves pitcher Kyle Wright believes he altered the arc of his career with the highly important and impressive effort he produced after entering Game 4 of last year’s World Series in an unenviable situation.

Wright came out of the bullpen after the Astros loaded the bases with one out in the first inning. His 6.56 career ERA didn’t create reason for confidence. But the hurler remarkably felt comfortable for the first time in his young and turbulent big league career. Pitching in the biggest game of his life, he was reintroduced to the poise and aggressiveness that led the Braves to take him with the fifth overall pick in the 2017 MLB Draft.

“It was kind of eerie,” Wright said. “The first [World Series] outing I had, we were down 7-2 [in the eighth inning of Game 2]. It was a cleanup inning. But I feel like I was significantly more nervous in that outing. I don’t think I threw a strike in the bullpen. Still, everything was crisp and sharp, and I struck out the side during that game.

“Then for [Game 4], I felt as comfortable and under control as I have ever felt. I just felt very prepared.”

Five months later, Wright, now 26, has come to Spring Training having to fight for one of the two available spots in Atlanta’s rotation. He threw three innings of scoreless ball during a 7-7 tie against the Rays on Wednesday afternoon at CoolToday Park. The outing strengthened his bid and enhanced hope that he will continue to benefit from last year’s unexpected World Series success.

“I think what we saw in the World Series was a benefit of him being in Triple-A most of last year,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “You can’t replace that experience.”

Wright has bid for a rotation spot during each of the past three Spring Trainings, but this might be the first time he is mentally and physically ready for the job. He made two forgettable starts for Atlanta last year. But for the most part, he spent the season experiencing uninterrupted development at Triple-A Gwinnett. He posted a 2.18 ERA and limited opponents to a .197 batting average over his final 13 regular-season starts in the International League.

As the Braves battled the Brewers in the National League Division Series and the Dodgers in the NL Championship Series, Wright was working out at the team’s alternate training site. He was added to the World Series roster to serve as a long reliever or potential starter. After striking out all three batters he faced during his mop-up appearance in Game 2, he was tabbed to carry a bulk of the innings when Dylan Lee served as the opener in Game 4.

Lee’s fifth career appearance and first start didn’t last long. Wright began throwing in the bullpen when Jose Altuve singled to begin the game. He entered two walks and one out later with the bases loaded. Altuve scored on Carlos Correa’s groundout, but Wright ended the threat with a strikeout of Kyle Tucker.

“It was unbelievable what he did,” Snitker said. “He got us to that point where we were one win away.”

Wright limited the Astros to five hits and one run over 4 2/3 innings. He stranded two in the second inning, escaped a bases-loaded threat in the third and surrendered Altuve’s solo homer in the fourth. Then after putting two on with two outs in the fifth, he received a visit from pitching coach Rick Kranitz.

“He took a mound visit and said, 'Hey man, if you get this guy out, we’re going to win this game,’” Wright said. “I got the guy out and we won the game. That was a huge moment for me and the team. The fact that Kranny said that gave me a ton of confidence to attack the next guy. We got him out, and the rest is history.”

Wright induced Marwin Gonzalez's fly ball to end the fifth with the Braves still down just two runs. Two innings later, Dansby Swanson and Jorge Soler hit the back-to-back homers that gave Atlanta a 3-2 win and a 3-1 advantage in the best-of-seven series.

Wright spent the offseason feeding off his renewed confidence. But now, he is looking to prove that outing was just a sign of things to come.

“Those final two months at Triple-A, I felt I was as good as anybody,” Wright said. “I was just getting my confidence. Then to be able to do it in the World Series, that gave me everything I needed to continue to progress.”