With newfound confidence, Wright racks up career-high 11 K's

April 23rd, 2022

ATLANTA -- As Kyle Wright progresses through this season and beyond, there may be reason to reflect on the potentially significant moment that occurred when Braves manager Brian Snitker enhanced the rejuvenated hurler’s confidence during Friday night’s 3-0 win over the Marlins.

Near the conclusion of the most dominant start of his young career, Wright hit a batter, surrendered a single and issued a walk to load the bases with two outs in the sixth. Snitker popped out of the dugout and headed straight toward his hurler.

“Well, I thought I was obviously done,” Wright said.

So did most of the 40,402 fans who packed a sold-out Truist Park again. Yeah, Wright had been great in his first two starts of this season and yeah, he had been masterful when he was presented a bases-loaded threat during Game 4 of last year’s World Series. But this is also a guy who entered this year having lasted at least five innings in just eight of 18 career starts, including the postseason.

Or, he used to be that guy. Actions speak louder than words, and Wright is doing much more than just saying he has finally found self-confidence. Snitker noticed it in Spring Training, and he saw it again as he looked in the 26-year-old hurler’s eyes during that sixth-inning visit.

“I was going to see what his reaction was,” Snitker said. “I told him, ‘If you’re done, I’ve got somebody ready.’ He said he felt good, and he looked good. You just never know. I don’t do that a lot. But that was the answer I was hoping for.”

Having assured his manager he was fine, Wright completed his determined effort by inducing a groundout of Avisaíl García. He recorded a career-high 11 strikeouts, issued one walk and allowed just four hits over six scoreless innings.

“My God, I haven’t had a chance to watch [video], but I looked at some of the replays, and it was crazy just looking at the swings,” Snitker said.

Wright ranks fourth among National League pitchers with a 1.06 ERA. He is tied with the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani for the second-most strikeouts (26) in MLB, and he has issued just two walks over three starts this season. It’s hard to believe this is the same guy who is coming off a season in which he posted a 17.1 percent strikeout rate and 14.3 percent walk rate.

But the Wright who had struggled at the big league level during portions of each of the last four seasons is gone. He has been replaced by a guy who looks much more like what the Braves envisioned when they took him with the fifth-overall selection in the 2017 MLB Draft.

“There's been a lot of guys that have come through this game with great stuff but never put it together,” Snitker said. “This young man is showing that he's on that road [to putting it together].”

How dominant was Wright’s effort? The Marlins whiffed with 40 percent (20 of 50) of the swings they took against him. That would have been the highest whiff percentage recorded by any of the 18 pitchers who, entering Friday, had induced at least 50 swings in a game this year.

Going back to 2008, there have been just five instances of a Braves pitcher producing a 40 percent whiff rate with a minimum of 50 swings in a game. Julio Teheran had accounted for three of those instances. Mike Foltynewicz did it during a start in '18, and Ian Anderson is the most recent, having done this on Sept. 10, 2021, against the Marlins.

“[Wright’s] stuff is gross,” Braves catcher Travis d’Arnaud said. “It’s disgusting. All five of his pitches are great. I’m glad I don’t have to face him.”

Everything changed for Wright when he had a chance to develop without interruption at the Triple-A level last year. Instead of attacking a hitter’s weakness, he became confident in attacking with his strengths. He leans heavily on his curveball, has great confidence in his two-seamer and has swing-and-miss stuff with the four-seamer he throws up in the zone.

Wright struck out the only three batters he faced when he was used out of the bullpen with Braves down, 7-2, in Game 2 of the 2021 World Series. He then entered Game 4 with the bases loaded and one out in the first inning. The Astros scored just one run that inning and only one more during a 4 2/3-inning relief effort that gave Wright a sense of confidence, which was only enhanced by Snitker’s decision to leave him in on Friday night.

“I feel like I can compete with anyone, and I feel like I can pitch with anyone,” Wright said. “But it’s one thing to think it and another thing to do it.”