Braves turn to another rookie, Bryse Wilson, for NLCS Game 4 start

As he spent most of the season at the Braves' alternate training site in Gwinnett County, Bryse Wilson surely couldn’t have imagined that he’d wind up as the starting pitcher in a National League Championship Series game.

“Not in a million years,” he said Wednesday.

But that’s what will happen Thursday night, when the 22-year-old right-hander is scheduled to start NLCS Game 4 for the Braves against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“For it to actually be coming true, just looking back at everything I’ve done to get to this point, I’m just super thankful, super happy, for the opportunity,” Wilson said.

He’ll become the third consecutive rookie to start an NLCS game for the Braves, following Game 2 starter Ian Anderson and Game 3 starter Kyle Wright.

Anderson and Wilson were drafted by the Braves in 2016 in the first and fourth rounds, respectively. Wright was a first-round pick one year later.

“Us coming up together, we always talked about how hypothetically this could happen,” Wilson said. “And now that it actually is ... it’s a great experience to be a part of it with these guys.”

Wilson went back and forth between the Gwinnett camp and the Braves’ roster several times during the regular season, but each stay with the big-league team was brief. He appeared in six games and started only two, posting a 1-0 record and a 4.02 ERA across a mere 15-2/3 innings.

Both of his starts came in the final week of the regular season in games that would’ve been started by Cole Hamels, if not for the shoulder fatigue that shut down his season.

In Wilson’s first start of the season Sept. 22, he pitched five scoreless innings against Miami, allowing three hits in the Braves' NL East-clinching win. He started again in the regular-season finale Sept. 27 against Boston, allowing one run on five hits in three innings before turning the game over to a parade of relievers tuning up for the postseason.

Because the Braves were impressed by what they saw in those two outings, and because of their well-documented need for a No. 4 starter, Wilson will find himself under the bright lights of the postseason, a far cry from the obscurity of the alternate training site.

“I really liked what I saw (in his two starts),” Braves manager Brian Snitker said Wednesday. "I kind of thought he’s starting to take a step forward and figure some things out. I liked how he attacked and used his fastball.

“You just never know when, with these young guys, things might click. I had a real good feeling the last couple of times he threw.”

Wilson hasn’t pitched in a game in 17 days. The Braves apparently planned for him to start Game 4 of last week’s Division Series if needed, but they eliminated Miami in three games. On the day after that series ended, Wilson threw 88 pitches in six simulated innings to prepare for a start this week.

“I’m ready to go full force, full length, for as long as the team needs me to,” he said.

Said Snitker: “We’ll go as long with him as he’ll let us take him. I’m hoping he’ll go in and go five innings. If he doesn’t, he doesn’t. Then I guess we get in our bullpen a little earlier. I don’t know if I’d call it a bullpen game because I consider him a legit starter. We’ll just see how it goes.”

Wilson made his big-league debut at age 20 in an August 2018 spot start by pitching five scoreless innings against Pittsburgh. He made only two other big-league appearances in 2018 (both in relief) and only six appearances (four starts) in 2019.

He believes a more aggressive approach and changes in his repertoire have served him well of late.

“I think for me it was bringing back the two-seamer/sinker, whatever you want to call it, and mixing that with the four-seam and the increased work with the slider, trying to get more depth on that,” Wilson said. “The biggest thing was learning to attack the zone, get ahead of hitters, trust my stuff.”

Now those lessons will be tested in the NLCS.