Bullpen backs Wright in Braves' win 

April 17th, 2021

Ronald Acuña, Jr. has been the clear-cut star for the Braves this season, and he was again at the center of the action on Friday. However, it was the pitching, especially the bullpen, that ultimately powered Atlanta to a 5-2 victory over Chicago at Wrigley Field.

Right-hander Kyle Wright was called up from the alternate training site to start in place of the injured Drew Smyly, and he was solid in 4 1/3 innings, allowing just two runs despite struggling with his command. He gave way to a quintet of relievers -- Grant Dayton, Sean Newcomb, Josh Tomlin, A.J. Minter and Will Smith -- who held the Cubs scoreless the rest of the way.

“Kyle, I don’t know. He’d lose it and then he makes some great pitches,” manager Brian Snitker said. “Consistency and command wasn’t great, but he dialed it in when he needed to and made some nasty pitches. I love the way he didn't let the game get out of hand and made some big pitches, got some big outs and kept us in the game.”

Whether due to first-start jitters, or the infamous breeze at Wrigley Field, Wright seemed to never get his location where he wanted it. He hit four batters, tying the record for most in a game. The most recent to do it was Cubs pitcher Alec Mills on July 16, 2019. Wright is the first Braves pitcher to do so since Vive Lindaman in 1908. Wright helped his own cause by hitting a double (his first career hit) in the fourth inning before coming around to score on an Acuña single.

“For me, I was geared for one I guess. For me, with being in the ninth spot and particularly two outs, I just want to get it to Acuña,” said Wright. “He’s the hottest hitter on the planet, so whatever I could do to get it to him. That was my goal and I got a good pitch and put a good swing on it.”

After Wright’s departure in the fifth, the Braves bullpen would keep Chicago at bay, allowing just three hits the rest of the way, all by Tomlin in his 1 1/3 innings. The Cubs managed to load the bases with two outs in the ninth, but Smith struck out Joc Pederson to end the game.

Chicago’s season-long struggles with men in scoring position continued, as the Cubs went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position, and are now hitting .084 (7-for-83) in such situations this year.

With trouble brewing in the eighth inning, Snitker brought in Minter and with Pederson on first after an overturned call, Minter would take away the Cubs' shot at a comeback with strikeouts of Jason Heyward and Eric Sogard to end the inning.

“Yes, it was a great opportunity right there for him [Minter],” said Snitker. “Because this guy's gonna be big for us and I thought that was the perfect opportunity for him. I think it does a lot for his psyche and his confidence, and you know the confidence we had ... He's our guy and I think that was the perfect opportunity to get him back out there.”

Unfortunately, the Braves roster couldn't catch a break as Ender Inciarte exited the game with a left hamstring injury after advancing to third base on Wright's double. Atlanta's injury bug would continue as Ozzie Albies exited the game in the ninth with an apparent calf injury after being hit by a pitch. That was Albies’ second time being hit on Friday, so Snitker and the Braves decided to sit their star for the remainder of the game.

Fortunately for Atlanta, this game was a testament to its resilience and ability to play as a team. The Braves have found themselves struggling at the plate this season with much of their productivity coming from Acuña. There is no doubt that Acuña has been the Braves' bona fide star, but it seems he is now getting some support from his fellow sluggers -- including Marcell Ozuna, who went 3-5 with one RBI on Friday. Although Ozuna is known for his power swing, it's encouraging to see the Braves putting together quality team at-bats.

“Yeah, that's a sign. That does mean a lot to me, because I feel like I'm getting there,” said Ozuna. “So I think there's gonna be good things coming up.”