How Braves pitcher Kyle Wright rediscovered his confidence

Braves relief pitcher Kyle Wright delivers to a Houston Astros batter during the fifth inning in Game 4 of the World Series at Truist Park, Saturday October 30, 2021, in Atlanta. Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

Credit: Hyosub Shin

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Braves relief pitcher Kyle Wright delivers to a Houston Astros batter during the fifth inning in Game 4 of the World Series at Truist Park, Saturday October 30, 2021, in Atlanta. Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

Credit: Hyosub Shin

FORT MYERS, Fla. – Recently, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution asked Travis d’Arnaud and Austin Riley, separately, to name a teammate they think doesn’t get talked about enough who could have a breakout season. Each took a minute to look around the clubhouse and ponder the question, but both came to the same conclusion.

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D’Arnaud: “Kyle Wright. That’s what I’ll say. To do what he did last year through basically the whole season in minor leagues and then his first time in a while is in the World Series, and for him to succeed, I think is huge.”

Riley: “For me, I think Kyle Wright is one of those guys you kind of have to keep your eye on because his stuff is nasty. It’s shown. The confidence that he built last year in the postseason, the game that he had, I think that goes into hopefully the confidence this year. He’s a great guy. He’s got the stuff. It’s just a matter of putting it together. To me, hopefully this is his year.”

Told about this, Wright seemed pleased.

“One, it’s pretty cool that they think that,” he said.

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Over the past couple of years, Wright feels like he’s learned a lot about who he is and his capability as a pitcher. He believes he’s rediscovered his confidence, which he lost amid all the ups and downs since the Braves drafted him with the No. 5 overall pick in 2017. He thinks he’s finally in a great spot to make an impact at the big-league level.

To regain his confidence, Wright “got back to myself.” There are both physical and mental components to pitching, each serving as an important piece of the puzzle.

“I know it’s not easy to play at this level, but I feel like I’m finally in a position where I really trust myself, and I’ve got my confidence back, and I know what I need to do to be successful,” Wright said.

‘I’ve gone through it’

“What am I doing?” “Am I good enough?” Questions like these have flooded Wright’s mind as he’s struggled throughout his career. He’s gone up and down between the majors and Triple-A, and hasn’t found solid footing in the bigs.

In 2020, Wright began working with Zach Sorensen, the Braves’ mental-performance coach. With Sorensen’s help, Wright learned tools to remain steady throughout games and a season full of twists and turns.

One tool: Sorensen uses the example of “red light” and “green light.” Green light is when Wright is pitching well and not thinking much. When he begins to struggle or spiral, he tries to remember what Sorenson taught him about resetting his mind and resorting to his routines to get back to the “green light” state. Wright said this has helped him stay even through anything.

“I’ve gone through it,” Wright said. “I’ve pitched in the worst of the worst and pitched in the highest of the high. I feel like I’ve kind of seen it all now. I feel like I’ve learned a lot from those failures and successes, and how to handle it and how to manage a whole season because the season is a roller coaster, it’s a long, grueling season. (It’s) 162. You don’t have time to feel sorry for yourself. You got to get back out there and go pitch the next one.”

Building momentum late in the season

On the mound, Wright’s confidence, in part, comes from using his curveball more. “That’s my best pitch, so I’ve got to throw it,” he said. He threw it a lot in a successful college career at Vanderbilt. He feels he can fire it in there when he simply needs a strike and can use it to strike out batters.

In 2021, he didn’t use the pitch much early in the season. After his start against the Mets, his final one of the regular season, he began throwing it a ton and hurling it as hard as he could. According to Brooks Baseball, Wright threw his curveball 24.55% of the time in 2021, up almost 10% from 2020. Wright now feels comfortable using his entire repertoire – which also includes a sinker, four-seam fastball and change-up.

“I feel like I have the confidence to throw any pitch for a strike at any time, and I think that’s a big thing at this level,” he said. “It’s really tough to go through a lineup a couple different times, just have two pitches. Some guys can do it, but it’s tough to do so. So having my four that I feel confident throwing a strike any time I think has been a big thing for me.”

In 2020, Wright started eight regular-season games for the Braves. He made only two of them last season – one in April, the other in June. And while you didn’t see him in a Braves uniform much, he might have found something in Triple-A. Wright posted a 3.02 ERA over 24 starts for Gwinnett last year.

He eventually pitched twice in the World Series. The outing that gave him confidence came in Game 5, when he tossed 4-2/3 innings and allowed one run, with three walks and three strikeouts.

Can he carry this confidence and momentum into 2022? This remains to be seen. Wright hasn’t found much consistency as a professional, but feels he’s in position to turn that around.

“I really do feel like I’ve gotten my confidence back to where it should be,” Wright said. “I feel like I’m a very talented pitcher, and I feel like I can pitch at this level. The end of last year and the World Series, I feel like I kind of really proved that myself, too. I feel really good with where I’m at mentally, and I’m going to try to continue to gain that confidence and continue to grow it.

“I’m in a really good spot. It’s not going to be easy. It’s a tough season, tough game, (we) play a lot of really good players, but I feel like I’m in a spot where I’ll be able to battle whatever happens.”

‘I feel like I’m capable’

It seems like Wright will be included at the back end of the Braves’ rotation to start the season. That seemed like a wide-open competition when the club entered camp, which leads us to another area of growth for Wright. In previous spring trainings, he said, he worried only about the rotation competition. This time around, he simply tried to focus on himself. He’s proud of himself for the progress he’s made.

“I’ve struggled a lot, so I’ve put in a lot of work to try to get out of it,” Wright said. “I want to be consistent, pitch at a high level because I feel like I can. I feel like I’m capable, like I have the stuff, like I can do anything. It’s just proving it and doing it consistently.”

Around the Braves’ clubhouse, others believe in Wright to do that.

“It’s always been the stuff,” opening-day starter Max Fried said. “For me, it’s just being comfortable with who you are out there, and I think you were able to see that last year at the end of the year. I feel like he really has a good understanding of who he is as a pitcher now and he wants to go and attack guys.

“Put those two things together, and it makes for a dangerous combination.”