Kyle Wright is no longer the pitcher who was optioned to the alternate training site in August because he could not find the strike zone.
Wright is different. He is better, but he still remembers that previous version of himself. Wright is grateful for his early-season struggles, because that learning experience put him on a course for redemption, including a stellar performance in Thursday afternoon’s 7-0 victory over the Marlins in Game 3 of the National League Division Series at Minute Maid Park.
The fourth overall pick in the 2017 Draft pitched six scoreless innings, allowing three hits and two walks and striking out a career-high seven batters, to help send the Braves to the NL Championship Series for the first time since '01.
Wright and Ian Anderson became the first pair of rookie teammates in MLB history to pitch at least six scoreless innings in their playoff debuts in a single postseason. They will team up with Max Fried to form a solid trio in the NLCS.
“I know I'm a good pitcher, and we have a good team," Wright said. "So once I got to the things that I needed to change, I feel like it was pretty easy, because we are such a good team and whenever you're out there, you have a lot of confidence."
Do you remember where Wright was in August? He had a 7.20 ERA after his first four starts, prompting the move back to Gwinnett. He returned on Sept. 8 because Atlanta was desperate for starting pitching. Wright allowed five runs in four innings, and his ERA jumped to 8.05.
“Yeah, an [8.05] ERA isn’t exactly how you draw it up,” Wright said. “I was a big reason the rotation kind of struggled, so I think, for me, it was just kind of getting back to what I can do.”
Wright had a 2.37 ERA in his final three starts in the regular season, pitching at least six innings in each outing. He held opponents to a .164 batting average and a .263 on-base percentage.
Including Thursday’s start in Game 3, Wright has a 1.80 ERA in his last four starts.
“I think getting sent down this year was probably the best thing that could have happened to me, because I made a lot of changes that helped me,” Wright said. “There have been a lot of people along the way that helped push me in the right direction to make the quick turnaround, because I always knew I had it in me to be able to pitch this way.
“With the defense we have, there’s no reason for me to walk the guys like I had in the past. So you just make pitches [and] let those guys make plays. For me, it’s just being able to attack. Whatever people want to say, [it’s] whatever. I'm just going to continue to do what I can to get better.”
Wright’s stellar start not only punched the Braves’ ticket to the NLCS, but it allowed them to rest and reset their entire pitching staff. If the Marlins had extended the series another day or two, Atlanta might have been forced to pitch Fried on short rest on Saturday in Game 5. Now, the rotation’s ace will be ready to roll on Monday in Game 1 against the Dodgers or Padres at Globe Life Field in Arlington.
Anderson is expected to pitch Game 2 on Tuesday, and Wright is expected to start Game 3 on Wednesday. One of the best bullpens in baseball will be well-rested, too. It is huge, considering the best-of-seven NLCS will be played in seven consecutive days.
“It’ll be good,” Snitker said. “I think it’ll be great for Max. We didn’t have to use any of the go-to guys in the bullpen today. The three guys that finished the game needed to pitch today, so that all worked out. Seven days in a row, it’s going to be all hands on deck.
“That was good that we could finish this thing today. We’re going to turn around, wake up and we’re going to be starting this next seven games in a row. That’s going to be a rough go.”
But the Braves now know they have somebody behind Fried and Anderson. They have Wright, who showed he can handle the postseason, too.
“I've never gotten the pitch the postseason before, so having the opportunity to do so on a really good team, I think I was just excited,” Wright said.