ATLANTA -- Two years after recording only two outs in what had been his most recent postseason start, Kyle Wright showed he is now capable of giving the Braves exactly what they need, when they need it most.
There was no apprehension in Wright’s approach as he guided the Braves to a 3-0 win over the Phillies in Game 2 of the National League Division Series on Wednesday night at Truist Park. The rejuvenated hurler looked like a seasoned vet as he helped Atlanta claim what some might have viewed as a must-win game.
“This was a good one for me,” Wright said. “It's a small thing, but just kind of checking off another box. I had success in the postseason last year, but to do it in a start, that was pretty cool to me. I think I've worked on a lot of things this year. It really just goes back to confidence.”
Wright certainly exuded confidence as he limited the Phillies to two hits and one walk over six scoreless innings. His effort helped the Braves bounce back from Tuesday’s Game 1 loss and head to Philadelphia with this best-of-five series even at 1-1 after the first two games.
“The impressive thing was the game was three hours later than it was supposed to be, and [Wright] stayed focused and went out there and executed,” Braves catcher Travis d’Arnaud said. “I mean, that’s pretty impressive.”
Wright kept his focus as rain delayed the game’s start for two hours and 55 minutes. Asked if he spent time on the exercise bike to prepare, he said, “No, I was probably just bored.”
Matt Olson, Austin Riley and d’Arnaud tallied three consecutive two-out RBI singles that doomed Zack Wheeler’s otherwise dominant performance and rewarded one of the most memorable starts of Wright’s young career. Yeah, the Braves right-hander constructed a few gems as he earned an MLB-best 21 wins this year.
But as he began his sixth and final inning with consecutive strikeouts of Kyle Schwarber and Rhys Hoskins, it was evident how far Wright had truly come since allowing seven runs while recording just two outs against the Dodgers in Game 3 of the 2020 NL Championship Series.
“I feel I had the confidence to pitch at this stage,” Wright said. “[The Phillies have] a really good lineup, and I knew that. But I knew if I executed, then I was going to give myself a chance. And I really believe that.”
How did Wright gain that confidence? Well, it built as he made two strong relief appearances during last year’s World Series. He struck out the only three batters he faced during a mopup appearance in Game 2 against the Astros. Then he gave the Braves maybe the most important 4 2/3 innings of last year’s postseason, when he allowed just one run after entering Game 4 with the bases loaded and just one out in the first inning. Atlanta claimed a comeback win.
“It’s just so amazing to watch someone go through obstacles and struggles and come out on top,” said Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson, who played with Wright at Vanderbilt University. “He's the epitome. It's not necessarily becoming something you aren't; it's always getting back to who you truly are. And he has done that exceptionally well as a pitcher. I'm extremely proud of him.”
When the Braves took Wright with the fifth overall pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, it was apparent he was something special. But his journey has been challenging. He rose to the Majors in September 2018, prematurely joined Atlanta's rotation in 2019 and lost who he was when he missed out on the chance for more development during the 2020 COVID-shortened season. But given time to develop at the Triple-A level most of last year, he found himself and what has been a valuable curveball.
“I went and looked at my numbers [last year] and found out this was my best pitch,” Wright said. “I knew it was my best pitch, but I just got away from it. I started to buy back into it last year.”
Wright threw his curveball more frequently (34%) than any other pitch this year. It was his least-used pitch during the 2019-20 seasons. This might have come as a surprise to some who watched him masterfully use this breaking ball on 38 of his 83 pitches (46%) on Wednesday.
The Phillies whiffed on seven of the 20 swings taken against Wright’s curveball. He used the pitch to help set up an inning-ending strikeout of Brandon Marsh on a fastball with Bryce Harper on third in the second. The curveball ended the strikeouts of Schwarber and Hoskins in the sixth.
“I thought we hit more balls hard than they did, really,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said. “It's that they ran balls down and were standing in the right place. But [Wright] can pitch.”
Wright has come a long way since he entered this year having completed at least five innings in just five of 14 career starts. But the Braves know he’s just getting started.
“With that arsenal that he's got, he can be a force for a long time,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said.