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Wright introduces versatility to pitches

Braves optimistic about progress of Minter, O'Day; Acuna has strong showing on offense
@mlbbowman
March 11, 2019

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- As Kyle Wright has proven to be the most impressive pitcher in Braves camp this year, he has benefited from the new and improved cutter he developed with assistance from former Vanderbilt University teammate Walker Buehler. “I’m just really throwing it and trusting it,” Wright

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- As Kyle Wright has proven to be the most impressive pitcher in Braves camp this year, he has benefited from the new and improved cutter he developed with assistance from former Vanderbilt University teammate Walker Buehler.

“I’m just really throwing it and trusting it,” Wright said. “Sometimes, last year, I would really try to manipulate it and get around on it. So I’d spin it, but it was down and away and not a very competitive pitch. I learned how Walker Buehler throws his. He just pulls it across his arm. So ever since I’ve just thought fastball and just gotten extended out there, it’s been a much better break and a lot harder too.”

Wright estimated he threw just five cutters as he allowed two runs and four hits and one walk over three-plus innings of Monday afternoon’s 6-2 win over the Pirates. But on a day when his two-seam command was shoddy, he provided a glimpse of how effective this pitch might be when mixed with both his slider and curveball. The cutter concluded one of the five strikeouts he recorded within the first nine batters faced.

“He’s got weapons,” Braves bench coach Walt Weiss said. “He’s got a good breaking ball, and of course he has a good fastball with the velocity and command. Then you’ve got the cutter you can use as a weapon, especially to get the ball inside against lefties. He’s obviously a sharp kid. It looks like he’s in control of his surroundings when he’s out there. He’s been really good.”

The Braves knew they had something special when they took Wright with the fourth overall pick in the 2017 MLB Draft. They were certainly further encouraged by the 23-year-old right-hander as he ended his first full professional season by getting a taste of the Majors (five innings over two appearances) last year. But few were expecting Wright to be where he’s at right now, making a case to be part of Atlanta’s Opening Day roster.

Wright has recorded 11 strikeouts over eight innings this spring, and the only two runs he surrendered were tallied after he exited Monday’s outing with two on and none out in the fourth.

“Coming into camp, I wouldn’t have told you I thought he’d be right there battling for a rotation spot,” Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. “I’ll be curious to see if he can keep it going, but he looks great.”

Wright used the Rapsodo and Edgertronic cameras at Vanderbilt University to help him further develop both his cutter -- which usually sits at 86-88 mph -- and his slider, which has a sharper downhill break and sits at 84-86 mph. His former pitching coach Scott Brown also assisted by passing along the advice offered by Buehler, who toyed with the cutter on his way to finishing third in last year’s National League Rookie of the Year Award balloting.

“I haven’t told [Buehler] thank you yet, but I probably should,” Wright said.

Ailing relievers

A.J. Minter has not been cleared to throw, and Darren O'Day continues to deal with a right forearm issue that developed after he made his March 1 spring debut. Still, the Braves remain optimistic both Minter and O'Day will be in the bullpen for the March 28 Opening Day game in Philadelphia.

“The fact these guys were up and throwing in games means as long as there’s not too much down time, they can get back up and going,” Anthopoulos said. “Right now, we’re still optimistic he could go [by Opening Day]. Obviously, it’s still a day-to-day thing.”

Minter faced just one batter before left shoulder tightness led him to exit his spring debut, which also occurred during the March 1 game against the Blue Jays. The lefty reliever blamed the discomfort on a car accident he’d experienced two days earlier.

O’Day’s frustration is rooted in the fact his forearm discomfort developed just as he was growing even more confident that he would not experience any problems with his surgically repaired right hamstring that sidelined him during last year’s second half.

Acuna’s blast

Ronald Acuna Jr. highlighted Monday’s two-hit performance by drilling Pirates starter Nick Kingham’s fastball off the center-field scoreboard. The two-run homer scored Josh Donaldson -- who moments earlier had recorded his first RBI this spring -- with a single that scored Ender Inciarte.

“He’s starting to zone in,” Weiss said. “When he barrels them up like that, they’re loud and they go far. He’s in a good place.”

Family matter

Braves manager Brian Snitker will likely spend the next few days in Atlanta attending to a family matter. Weiss will manage the club in Snitker’s absence.

Up next

Freddie Freeman and most of the other Braves regulars are expected to be in the lineup when the Cardinals visit ESPN's Wide World of Sports complex Tuesday at 1:05 p.m. ET. Atlanta's No. 7 prospect Bryse Wilson will oppose Miles Mikolas.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.