Notes: Wright gets started; Edwards sharp
Kyle Wright’s early career experiences have reminded him that how you progress through Spring Training doesn’t determine how you will fare at the start of a regular season.
So Wright certainly shouldn’t have been bothered by the fact that he didn’t complete the second of the two innings he was scheduled to pitch in the Braves' 9-7 loss to the Rays on Sunday afternoon at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Fla. The 25-year-old right-hander is more concerned about regaining that feel he had at the end of last season, when he finally found some consistent success in Atlanta's rotation.
“It’s nice to know there’s a spot we’re working for,” Wright said. “But the ultimate goal is to be as good as I can be. So I think the more time I have to work on things and grow as a pitcher, that’s what I’m going to do. That’s what will ultimately help me the most and help the team the most.”
Injuries forced the Braves to give an Opening Day roster spot to Wright in 2019 after he dazzled during Spring Training. Three starts later, still less than two years into his professional career, he was back at Triple-A Gwinnett.
Wright was back in Atlanta’s rotation at the start of last season, but he was sent back to the Minors after just four starts. To his credit, he returned to the Majors in September and showed the potential envisioned when Atlanta took him with the fifth overall pick in the 2017 Draft.
When Wright threw six scoreless innings against the Marlins in Game 3 of the National League Division Series, he was in the midst of producing a 1.80 ERA over four starts. His bubble burst when he was charged with seven of the 11 runs the Dodgers scored in the first inning of Game 3 of the NL Championship Series.
But those final weeks of the 2020 season gave Wright added confidence, and the ability to shake off an outing like this Grapefruit League opener. After pitching around a Randy Arozarena single in the first, he allowed three straight one-out hits, including doubles by Willy Adames and Manuel Margot, in a four-run second.
“I liked his stuff,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “At times, he threw good breaking balls and popped the fastball. It was OK.”
If Mike Soroka begins the season on the injured list to give him more time to recover from a torn right Achilles tendon, the open rotation spot could be given to Wright, Bryse Wilson or Huascar Ynoa, who is scheduled to start Monday’s exhibition game against the Red Sox.
Carl Edwards Jr. became an intriguing bullpen candidate as soon as he signed a Minor League contract with the Braves in January. The right-hander posted a 3.03 ERA over 167 appearances for the Cubs from 2016-18 and then battled multiple injuries the past two seasons.
Edwards opened his audition by tossing a perfect fourth inning against the Rays. He induced a pair of flyouts and then struck out Wander Franco, the game’s top prospect per MLB Pipeline.
As things stand, Chris Martin is the only right-handed reliever the Braves could confidently rely on in high-leverage situations. So Edwards certainly has a chance to earn a roster spot over the next few weeks.
Sean Newcomb is far removed from his days as a top prospect. But after spending much of last season stuck at the team’s alternate training site, Newcomb will be given another chance to prove he can be a valuable lefty reliever like he was when he posted a 3.04 ERA over 51 relief appearances in 2019.
Newcomb’s first spring appearance began inauspiciously, as he allowed a Mike Brosseau leadoff homer and then walked a pair between two strikeouts. Snitker took advantage of this year’s new Spring Training protocols by ending the inning before the third out was made. Through March 13, all managers will have the right to do this in any half-inning that has included at least 20 pitches.
“Newk’s stuff was good,” Snitker said. “Newk had limited exposure with us last year. This was his first time back in a competitive arena in a long time. That breaking ball has gotten better, and he was popping his fastball good. I think it’s just a matter of getting them back out there.”
Ronald Acuña Jr. will make his Grapefruit League debut when the Braves play the Red Sox in Fort Myers, Fla., on Monday. Top prospect Cristian Pache and Ozzie Albies are also slated to be in the lineup for Atlanta, who will give the start to Ynoa. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. ET. The game can be seen on MLB Network and MLB.TV.