Wright's 20th 'W' puts his name among Braves greats

Atlanta moves to 1 1/2 games back of Mets thanks to RHP's historic win

September 25th, 2022

PHILADELPHIA -- It seemed fitting for  to secure his first 20-win season upon the same mound where he made his first career start. As the Braves right-hander etched this milestone win in a 6-3 victory over the Phillies on Saturday at Citizens Bank Park, he showed how far he has come.

“I had them authenticate my own personal scorecard, because I want [Wright] to sign it to me,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever been this happy for someone over an accomplishment in a long, long, long time.”

Along with becoming the Braves’ seventh different 20-game winner and first since Russ Ortiz in 2003, Wright guided Atlanta to one of its best wins of the year, especially from a mental perspective. His efforts were aided by Michael Harris II and William Contreras, who both homered while helping the Braves end a three-game skid and move back to just 1 1/2 games behind the first-place Mets in the National League East.

Wright is positioned to become the first Braves pitcher to lead MLB in wins since Tom Glavine in 2000. He now stands with Glavine, Phil Niekro, Denny Neagle, John Smoltz, Greg Maddux and Ortiz as the only Braves pitchers to notch a 20-win season since the team moved to Atlanta in 1966.

“I don't know if I really realized how cool [being a 20-game winner] was until all the teammates and coaches congratulated me,” Wright said. "It's just special, obviously. It's kind of a team stat. I couldn't do it without these guys.”

This had been a rough few days for the Braves, who placed Spencer Strider on the injured list and sat Ronald Acuña Jr. for a third straight game on Saturday. Their bid for a fifth consecutive NL East title seemed to be fading before Wright carried a no-hit bid into the sixth and Contreras secured his first 20-homer season. They were doing this while the Mets’ Jacob deGrom allowed five runs over just four innings in a loss to the A’s.

Nobody expected Contreras to hit 20 homers, and Harris -- who has 19 homers himself -- wasn’t even considered a candidate for the NL Rookie of the Year Award he might pocket. Both were expected to spend most or all of this year at the Minor League level. Still, this year’s biggest surprise might be Wright.

"He's got good stuff,” Phillies designated hitter Bryce Harper. “Ever since he's been in college -- when he was at Vandy, he was really good as well. I think he's getting more and more polished.”

Wright kept the Phillies hitless until Rhys Hoskins doubled and scored when Bryce Harper followed with a homer with one out in the sixth. The 26-year-old hurler has constructed a 3.18 ERA while notching an MLB-best 20 wins. No other pitcher entered Saturday with more than 17 wins.

“We were talking to [Wright] and I was like, ‘Just think about where you were a year ago today.’” Snitker said. “'Now you’re a 20-game winner.' It’s awesome.”

This year’s level of success was envisioned when Wright was selected with the fifth overall pick in the 2017 MLB Draft. But expectations evaporated as he entered this season having completed at least five innings in just five of 14 career starts.  He was 2-8 with a 6.93 ERA in those outings.  

“I'm more confident and I can kind of keep myself under control a lot better than I did before,” Wright said. “Things don’t spiral out of control like they used to. A lot of that is because I have confidence in myself as a pitcher and I trust my stuff. I’ve really bought into trusting the defense.”

Less than two years after completing his stellar career at Vanderbilt University, Wright made his first career start. He issued five walks and allowed three runs over 4 1/3 innings during that March 31, 2019 game in Philadelphia. Injuries forced him to be fast-tracked to the Majors, and it took another two years before he gained the stability needed to properly complete his development. 

Wright benefited from spending most of the 2021 season at Triple-A Gwinnett. It’s also been well documented how much he gained from the two relief appearances made during last year’s World Series.  He entered the first inning of Game 4 with the bases loaded and one out. After allowing just one inherited runner to score, he limited the Astros to one run over 4 2/3 innings and gave the Braves a chance to claim their comeback victory. 

“He came to Spring Training a different guy and he’s been awesome carrying it on until now,” Snitker said.

The perseverance and determination Wright showed while being shuttled back and forth between the Major and Minor League levels the past few years has created a solid base for an inspirational story that has the potential to keep getting better for years to come.

“I think after I really hit the reset button last year and really started making changes, that’s when I started to believe in myself again and believe in my stuff,” Wright said. “And here we are.”