'He's rewarding us': Tonkin earns 1st W since 2016

Right-hander, 33, making the most of long-awaited return to Majors with Braves

April 12th, 2023

ATLANTA -- ’s season debut didn’t go as planned, but his rough return simply set the stage for to enjoy the kind of night he had spent the past six years hoping to experience again.

While produced MLB’s hardest hit this year and  blasted his 100th career homer on Tuesday night at Truist Park, Tonkin garnered most of the praise after he highlighted his long-awaited return to the Majors by helping the Braves claim a 7-6 win over the Reds.

“That was huge,” manager Brian Snitker said. “I was sitting there thinking, ‘If he can get us through the sixth, that would be great.’ And he did.”

Olson smashed a solo homer in the first inning at an exit velocity of 118.6 mph, making it the hardest-hit ball by a Braves player since Statcast began tracking in 2015 as well. Albies, meanwhile, added a two-run homer in the fourth to put an end to a skid during which he struck out in seven of his previous 15 at-bats.

But those contributions were trumped by what Tonkin did after Wright completed just three innings, giving up four runs on four hits and four walks in his first start of the season.

Tonkin entered the game with the Braves trailing, 4-2, and proceeded to allow only one hit over three scoreless innings, with three strikeouts. This was the kind of opportunity and experience the right-hander had longed for while spending the past six years pitching in Japan, Mexico, Long Island and multiple Triple-A cities.

Tonkin’s effort allowed him to notch his fourth career MLB win and first since he tossed 1 1/3 scoreless innings for the Twins in a victory over the Royals on Sept. 29, 2016. His five-season stint with Minnesota ended after the following campaign, and he’d wait six years before returning to the Majors with the Braves.

“To be in this clubhouse surrounded by superstars and to be able to go out there and help, it’s huge,” Tonkin said. “It’s why I’ve been doing what I’ve been doing for the past five or six years to get back here.”

Was there ever a point where he wondered if he might ever have this kind of experience again?

“Every step along the way,” Tonkin said.

When Wright makes his next start, likely during next week’s series in San Diego, he will attempt to find a better feel for the baseball and the game’s tempo. This was the first real game he pitched in since his Major League-best 21-win season last year, and it showed. He seemed to lean too heavily on his curveball, which was especially evident when he issued Jose Barrero a walk with the bases loaded in the third.

Wright’s season debut was delayed because he came to Spring Training behind schedule. The 27-year-old hurler rested for three weeks after receiving a cortisone injection in his right shoulder in January. The good news is he exited his first start feeling good about the state of his arm.

“I can’t say enough good things about what [Tonkin] did in this game,” Wright said. “He saved the bullpen and really won us this game.”

Tonkin found a comfortable fit as he produced a 3.17 ERA over 47 appearances for the Braves’ Triple-A affiliate last year. This successful stint earned the 33-year-old hurler a spot on Atlanta’s 40-man roster and a chance to fight for a job in big league camp. He allowed just two runs (one earned) over 6 2/3 Grapefruit League innings in March and earned a place on Atlanta’s Opening Day roster.

Tonkin has allowed just two runs in the 8 1/3 innings he has totaled across four appearances so far this year. His latest outing, though, stands as the most satisfying of an eventful career that has required a tremendous amount of perseverance.

“I love the fact he’s doing really well with the opportunities he has been given,” Snitker said. “He’s been through the wringer throughout his career, and it’s great to see a guy like that get rewarded for it. He’s rewarding us.”