Wright struggles in return to Majors

June 24th, 2021

After sinking to a season-worst five games below .500 last week, the Braves built a resurgence on the back of their rotation.

Atlanta starters had a 1.55 ERA in their past seven games entering Wednesday, but when the hot streak turned cold, the Braves’ shorthanded offense couldn’t find the spark to secure a series win. So instead, as Kyle Wright’s return to the Majors ended after two innings, the Braves took in a 7-3 loss at Citi Field to split a four-game set with the Mets.

The divisional foes will meet again at Truist Park next week, and perhaps Atlanta will be a bit healthier by then.

“We had, really, Pablo (Sandoval) and Kevan (Smith) were it as far as position players,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said, alluding to his four-man bench cut in half by a pair of day-to-day ailments.

Ronald Acuña Jr., their offensive leader who single-handedly lifted them to 1-0 victories in two of three prior nights, was unavailable with lower back tightness. Snitker said Acuña’s back was “spazzing up on him” but that “he could wake up tomorrow and feel great.” Guillermo Heredia (right wrist inflammation) didn’t feel comfortable swinging a bat, so his availability was only as a pinch-runner or defensive replacement.

Snitker had limited bullets in his arsenal, which helps explain why Drew Smyly -- who’ll start Friday’s game in Cincinnati -- entered to pinch-hit as the potential tying run in the sixth inning. The Braves’ best weapon was Sandoval, whom Snitker deployed as the potential tying run in the eighth. But Mets closer Edwin Díaz entered to fan Sandoval on a full-count slider, before coaxing a flyout from Ender Inciarte to get out of the jam.

“I thought we were making a run at it,” Snitker said. “We gave ourselves a chance, just couldn’t keep the line moving enough.”

Atlanta gave itself a chance after falling into an early 5-0 hole due to Wright's struggles. Fittingly, Wright was up with the Braves as an injury replacement for Max Fried, who’s dealing with a blister on his left index finger and could be back within a week.

History would suggest the Mets were a perfect opponent for Wright, the fifth-overall selection in the 2017 Draft, given that he pitched 9 2/3 scoreless innings against them across two starts last year.

The Braves owned a 17-inning scoreless streak against the Mets entering Wednesday, but that was erased when Wright allowed two runs in the first inning on a wild pitch and a fielder’s choice. He allowed three more in the second, all with two outs, including a two-run homer by Francisco Lindor on a slider squarely in the heart of the zone.

When Wright wasn’t missing over the middle, he was missing to all areas outside the zone. With three more walks on Wednesday, his career walks-per-nine rate is up to 6.17.

“He’s a young guy that’s still trying to figure it out,” Snitker said of the 25-year-old. “I mean, we see the stuff and (he) just hasn’t been able to put it together. I don’t know. You just hope someday it clicks.”

The thing is, it has clicked. Wright knows that. When he was pulled from Wednesday’s game, he thought about the times where everything went his way, like his six scoreless innings in an NLDS win over the Marlins last fall.

“I have high expectations of what I should do as a pitcher because I know I’m capable of pitching really well,” he said. “Sometimes I want to do so much so quick, and next thing you know, you spiral out of control and end up spraying the ball all over like I did today.”

With five starting pitchers on the injured list, and only three on the active roster, Wright missed a chance to help the Braves on a day they needed it most.

After Thursday’s bullpen game in Cincinnati, each of the three healthy starters will take their turn. Then it’ll be decision-time for one rotation spot, if not two, in yet another critical series against the Mets.