ATLANTA -- Kyle Wright spent most of last season attempting to right himself at the Triple-A level. The rejuvenated Braves hurler has spent this season’s first two months constructing a strong Cy Young Award resume.
Wright didn’t receive the result he was seeking as the Braves' offense was silenced in a 4-1 loss to the Phillies on Thursday night at Truist Park. But as he pitched effectively into the seventh inning, he showed the talent, enhanced maturity and determination that has made him one of the game’s top starters this year.
“I said when we walked into Spring Training at North Port, he’s a different guy,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “Before we threw a pitch, played catch, stretched or anything, I could just see he was a different kid. He’s a man.”
As this season has progressed, there has been plenty of discussion about how everything changed for Wright last year, when he got to develop in uninterrupted fashion at Triple-A and then provided two impressive relief efforts in the World Series.
Wright has surrendered the second-lowest batting average (.198) in the National League and he ranks among the NL’s top 10 qualified pitchers in both ERA (2.68) and WHIP (1.04). He entered Thursday with a 1.4 fWAR. The only NL pitchers with a higher mark were Carlos Rodón, Zack Wheeler and Atlanta teammate Max Fried, who all had a 1.5 fWAR.
Two months into this season, Wright isn’t even close to being the guy who entered the year with a 6.93 ERA in 14 career starts. He completed at least five innings in just five of those 14 starts. He has completed at least six innings in six of this season’s first nine starts.
“This is me,” Wright said. “I felt like this is who I was before I had all of the struggles. Now, it’s just about staying consistent.”
Wright wasn’t necessarily dominant, as he allowed the Phillies three hits and three runs while recording just five strikeouts over 6 2/3 innings. But his line doesn’t show how he navigated through one rough patch and cruised through nearly every other portion of his 92-pitch effort. Two of the runs charged to Wright scored on Odúbel Herrera’s two-out double off Will Smith with two outs in the seventh.
J.T. Realmuto’s leadoff homer in the third accounted for the only run scored while Wright was on the mound. The Braves' starter allowed each of the first four batters he faced in the third to reach safely, but he retired 19 of the other 21 batters he faced. He had retired 13 in a row before he ended his night by walking Kyle Schwarber and grazing Realmuto’s left elbow with a pitch with two outs in the seventh.
“It was very frustrating to throw that well and end with a walk and hit-by-pitch,” Wright said.
Wright added “it was the right decision” to pull him after he put two on with two outs in the seventh, but there was reason to at least question the decision. Herrera is now 6-for-9 against Smith. Snitker’s reasoning for picking this matchup was Herrera was 3-for-7 against his other top left-handed reliever, A.J. Minter.
At the same time, you can argue this new version of Wright has earned the chance to get out of that inning. Just four innings earlier, he allowed Realmuto’s homer, then allowed the Phillies to load the bases with no outs. The threat ended with Wright striking out Alec Bohm and getting Bryce Harper to ground into a double play.
“He was really good,” Snitker said. “It’s really good to see he is amassing [good starts]. It’s like he’s getting a hold of this whole thing.”