Wright's focus on health, not numbers (just yet)

March 20th, 2023

NORTH PORT, Fla. --  was brutally honest when asked how he thought he had pitched. But the shaky results from his spring debut didn’t alter his thoughts about being ready to start one of the Braves’ first six games of the regular season. 

“[My shoulder] feels great,” Wright said. “We’ll see how it feels tomorrow. That will be the real test. Everything is still trending in the right direction.” 

Wright allowed a pair of home runs, battled consistency with his curveball and struggled to put some hitters away while making his Grapefruit League season debut during Atlanta's 6-5 win over the Rays on Monday afternoon at CoolToday Park. But he completed the outing in healthy fashion, and that was all that mattered to Braves manager Brian Snitker.

“He threw some really good fastballs, and it was good to just get him out there and get this progression started,” Snitker said. 

Wright’s fastball touched 95 mph during the first two innings, which was in line with its 2022 average velo (95.1 mph), but it dipped to 91, 92 and 92 mph with the final three pitches of his 2 2/3-inning outing. He said the reduced velocity was a product of tinkering with his mechanics and had nothing to do with his shoulder.    

Wright took three weeks off in January after receiving a cortisone shot in his cranky right shoulder. Consequently, he came to Spring Training behind schedule.

The good news is that the shoulder now feels better than it has any of the past three seasons, including last year when Wright was MLB’s only 20-game winner. But the lost time at the start of camp has forced the right-hander to condense his preparation.

Wright will make one more Grapefruit League start and attempt to simulate at least five innings against Minor Leaguers after big league camp ends. That would line him up to make his regular-season debut during the series in St. Louis (April 3-5). 

So Wright has time to make adjustments after allowing four runs on five hits against the Rays. He allowed Brandon Lowe to homer on a 3-0 pitch in the first and then surrendered a pair of hits before Yandy Díaz highlighted a three-run second by drilling a hanging curveball over the left-field wall.

“I know what I have to work on,” Wright said. “I’ve got to find that curveball and crisp it up a little bit. I thought I did a good job of getting guys to two strikes, I just couldn’t put guys away. That’s something I’ll probably focus on this week.”  

Encouraging signs
It’s never wise to get too excited about early Spring Training statistics. But with his three-hit game on Monday, extended his surge into the Grapefruit League season’s final full week. Ozuna has 12 hits over his past 31 at-bats, and he is 8-for-18 with three doubles and one homer over his past six games.  

Ozuna’s recent success has shown that the Braves might still get some value from the $37 million he is owed over the next two seasons. 

“I think he’s getting in a good place here,” Snitker said. “I think he's getting his swagger back.”

Jiménez’s health
 wasn’t fooling any of the hitters he faced during his first two appearances this year. He spent last week making some adjustments on the back fields and has since made two scoreless appearances, including Monday when he pitched around a pair of hits.  

Jiménez had spinal surgery this offseason, so it was understandable why he might have struggled out of the gate. The past two appearances have been encouraging, but the Braves will still monitor him over the next week to ensure he enters the season healthy.  

“It’s coming, but it’s going to take getting him out there to get going,” Snitker said. 

Classic participants
(Puerto Rico) returned to the Braves' lineup on Monday after returning from his team’s run to the quarterfinals of the World Baseball Classic. As of late Monday afternoon, Snitker said he still hadn’t heard when will return to camp. Acuña’s Venezuela team was eliminated by the United States in Miami on Saturday night, but the expectation is Acuña will be in the lineup for Thursday’s game against the Mets. Atlanta is off Tuesday and will likely not take many regulars to Lakeland to face the Tigers on Wednesday.