Wright on tough start: 'Time to figure it out'

July 29th, 2020

Ronald Acuña Jr. has fueled the team’s alarming strikeout rate and Freddie Freeman has not yet rounded into form. But the Braves’ primary concern is a rotation that currently includes one void and two question marks.

“After [Mike] Soroka and Maxxie [Fried], it’s a little rough,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said of the rotation. “We’re just going to have to shore up the back three, because those guys aren’t going to go undefeated.”

seemed ready to right the ship when he took the mound at Tropicana Field on Tuesday night and breezed through the first two innings in impressive fashion. But he lost his grip for the baseball and began shying away from his fastball during a five-run third inning that carried the Rays to a 5-2 win over the Braves.

“We need to keep running him out there,” Snitker said. “That’s the only way he’s going to learn is to go out there and pitch. You see his stuff the first two innings, and that’s something really, really good.”

Just as Wright has the potential to be much better, the Braves know they should soon receive more from Acuña, who has recorded three hits and struck out 12 times through his first 21 at-bats. The same can be said for Freeman, who hasn’t fared much better, going 2-for-14 with just one extra-base hit.

The Braves have struck out a National League-high 64 times as they have spent their first five games facing a bevy of frontline starters. But any concerns about this potentially dangerous offense are overshadowed by those regarding a rotation that posted a 6.20 ERA during this 2-3 road trip.

Soroka and Fried began the season with back-to-back impressive starts. But concerns have grown over the past three days. Sean Newcomb needed 82 pitches to get 10 outs in Sunday’s win over the Mets. Mike Foltynewicz was designated for assignment when he showed diminished stuff in Monday’s loss in St. Petersburg.

And as Wright allowed five earned runs over 2 2/3 innings, he showed both his tremendous potential and inexperience. The 24-year-old ranks as the Braves' No. 4 prospect and the No. 51 overall prospect, per MLB Pipeline.

Wright recorded two strikeouts during a perfect 10-pitch first inning, and he recorded a strike with nine of the 11 pitches thrown during a scoreless second inning. At this point, a fastball had accounted for 13 of his 21 pitches.

But things unraveled after Wright issued three walks, including two straight with two outs, to load the bases in the third. The Rays then got three straight run-producing singles from Yoshi Tsutsugo, José Martínez and Joey Wendle.

A fastball accounted for just 10 of the 33 pitches Wright threw during the third. Along with admitting he “fell in love” with his slider too much during the inning, he discussed how he suddenly lost a feel for the baseball.

In the past, he would have licked his fingers, which is not allowed for safety reasons this year. So he used the wet rag pitchers are permitted to place in their back pocket this year. But he didn’t find that to be as effective as saliva.

“It’s the rules, figure it out,” Wright said. “I’ve had some issues in the past of finding a grip. But it’s time to get going and time to figure it out.”

Though Wright might not have generated the results the Braves were seeking, his impressive stuff combined with his postgame accountability creates hope that he may ensure that Soroka and Fried are not the only reliable parts of this rotation.

“I definitely want to feed off those guys,” Wright said. “We’re lucky to have them. That’s for sure.”

Up next
Soroka will take the mound when the Braves welcome the Rays to Truist Park on Wednesday at 7:10 p.m. ET, live on MLB.TV. Soroka held the Mets scoreless over six innings on Opening Day, and he will be looking to match that performance in the team's home opener. Tampa Bay will counter with former Brave Charlie Morton, who was one of Atlanta's top prospects about a decade before Soroka gained that status.