CHICAGO -- Bryse Wilson showed the Braves he has made progress since being forced into their injury-depleted starting rotation at the beginning of the season. But Ronald Acuna Jr.’s latest unassertive approach toward a fly ball influenced the early exit that may force Wilson to spend a little more time in the Minors.
After the baseball gods willed the Freddie Freeman vs. Craig Kimbrel matchup that concluded the Braves’ 9-7 loss to the Cubs Thursday afternoon at Wrigley Field, Atlanta manager Brian Snitker was among those who said Wilson’s results were plagued by defensive miscues. But he was not ready to commit to how he’ll fill the rotation void created by Mike Foltynewicz’s demotion to the Minors.
“We’ll sleep on that and talk about it tomorrow,” Snitker said. “We’re in good shape tomorrow.”
While Wilson’s fifth-inning exit forced the Braves to go with Josh Tomlin for 2 2/3 innings, the Cubs got to use their new bullpen asset when they handed their ninth-inning lead to Kimbrel, who stranded two when he got Freeman to end the game with a sharp grounder to first baseman Anthony Rizzo.
Freeman spent the past few months attempting to recruit Kimbrel, who had served as his teammate dating back to their early Minor League days in the Braves' organization. Even after Atlanta built a 6-1 lead in the fourth, the Braves' first baseman had a feeling fate would lead the Cubs’ new closer to make his season debut against his original club.
“Craig looked good,” Freeman said. “I think that gun was a little light. I think he was in the 98 [mph] area today. I really wanted to come through. I talked to him a lot over the last couple months. I was really hoping to come through there, but maybe in the playoffs.”
With just their fifth loss over their past 20 games, the Braves saw their National League East lead drop to 4 1/2 games. There’s certainly no reason to panic, but there is definitely a need to address the fact it’s unknown how long it might take Foltynewicz to get right.
When Foltynewicz was optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett after Saturday’s messy start against the Nationals, the obvious choice to take this next turn was Wilson, who had produced a 2.49 ERA over his past eight starts for Gwinnett. But as the 21-year-old right-hander allowed the Cubs six runs -- four earned -- over 4 1/3 innings, he provided indication he could benefit from some more Minor League seasoning.
“I really thought he threw the ball outstanding,” catcher Tyler Flowers said. “I know the numbers don’t look that way at all.”
Flowers influenced the frustrating afternoon when he was unable to block a wild pitch that scored Jason Heyward in the Cub’s three-run fourth. The veteran catcher was also charged with a passed ball that scored Daniel Descalso half a frame after Ozzie Albies had cut Atlanta’s deficit to one run with a sixth-inning leadoff homer.
But the most influential defensive miscue came courtesy of the indecision Acuna showed as he approached a Kris Bryant fly ball that Nick Markakis ended up dropping in the fifth. The miscommunication prevented Wilson from having two out and nobody on during what became a four-run frame once Victor Caratini stung Tomlin with a go-ahead, two-run homer.
“If he’s going to play center field, it’s different here,” Snitker said. “I think they’ve got to understand it’s really loud and you’re going to have to be loud. It’s just one of the few things that didn’t go our way today.”
Still, even if Wilson had escaped that fifth inning unscathed, there would be reason to question whether it would be wise to keep him around for another start. This marked the fourth time in the past six games an Atlanta starter did not complete at least five innings. Consequently, it may be much more valuable to add a bullpen arm for this weekend’s series against the Mets.
With an off-day scheduled Monday, the Braves would not have to carry five starters again until July 6. Kyle Wright was optioned Thursday, so he would not be eligible to return unless he was replacing a player placed on the injured list.
Foltynewicz would be an option, but that would give him time to make just one start for Gwinnett before returning. The Braves want to give the former All-Star a chance to regain confidence. Thus, it might not be wise to plan for him to return so soon.
So there’s at least a possibility Wilson will be given a chance to stick around. But for now, the Braves have a number of different variables to weigh before making a decision.