Kyle Wright makes Grapefruit League debut, on track to be in opening rotation

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

NORTH PORT, Fla. — For years, Kyle Wright went up and down between the major leagues and Triple-A. To a degree, he lived with the fear and pressure that every misstep might negatively affect his standing and opportunity in the Braves organization.

This is no longer the case.

Not when you won 21 games – more than anyone else in the majors – a year ago. Not when you’re now a key part of the rotation. Not when the team is counting on you to achieve its goals.

This spring is different.

“I think it allows you to move on from outings like this a little bit faster,” Wright said after Monday’s start against the Rays. “I’m always out there trying to compete, so I’m not gonna make myself any excuses. I thought I just got hit today. But with that being said, I think it definitely helps that you can kind of take that a little bit more and move on and flush it and just kind of continue to get better.”

In his Grapefruit League debut Monday, Wright allowed four runs on five hits over 2 ⅔ innings. He threw 49 pitches, which just about matched his target of 50 over three innings. Wright served up two home runs – one to Brandon Lowe, the other to Yandy Diaz.

“It wasn’t very good,” Wright said. “No, I mean, I thought I did a great job of throwing strikes and getting to two strikes. I think I actually got just about everyone there. Just couldn’t put any guys away.”

Added manager Brian Snitker: “I thought it was good. First time. Like I think he said, he had trouble finishing hitters off. As long as his shoulder feels good. He threw some really good fastballs. It was just good to get him out there, get the progression started.”

In his first Grapefruit League start after receiving a cortisone injection in his right shoulder in January, Wright sat 93-94 mph and touched 95 mph on the stadium radar gun. He reached his pitch count and innings limit. (He was one pitch shy, but the Braves didn’t want to push it.) He got back in a real game, which alone is an accomplishment.

Monday’s poor results didn’t matter. The important part is Wright completed the start with a healthy shoulder. The real test, he said, will come on Tuesday’s off day, when Wright will know how he recovered from the outing.

“Any time you pitch poorly, you’re going to be frustrated,” Wright said. “But I think at the same time, knowing that if I would have done a little bit better job with two strikes, that really changes the whole outing. I think it’ll come, just gotta continue to get more reps.”

Wright said he’ll make one more start in Grapefruit League play. He might also throw on the backfields one time after that as he continues to get stretched out. As of now, it seems he’ll be healthy enough to make the opening-day roster and pitch in the first turn through the rotation if the Braves opt for that. Snitker said the club would let it play out before making a determination.

Wright said his curveball, his best pitch, wasn’t great Monday. In his final inning, he got his change-up going, and he said that could be something he throws earlier in outings if he doesn’t have his curveball.

For now, he’ll try to improve and continue getting ready for the season. “I know what to work on,” he said, implying that Monday’s start gave him material for that.

“If you’re getting guys two strikes, you always got a chance to have a good game,” Wright said. “I feel like I kind of got a little bit of the hard part out of the way but now gotta finish guys off.”

Wright’s college coach at Vanderbilt, Tim Corbin, had a motto of sorts. It went something like this: Positions are rented, not owned.

This is part of why Wright didn’t make excuses for Monday’s start. It might only be spring training, but he wants to pitch well. He can move on because he knows he’ll be in the rotation, but he won’t become complacent.

He experienced a breakout 2022 season but won’t lose his edge because of it. Corbin’s motto is like a mindset for Wright.

“I think (all starts) matter,” Wright said. “You never know – there’s always someone coming for your spot. And as you’re seeing, we got a ton of good arms in the minor leagues. And just me, personally, I want to win, and I want to be a big part of that. I think that’s just something I’m going to always carry with (me) the rest of my career, doesn’t matter where I’m at. I think it’s something that a lot of people could take and could help them at whatever they’re doing.”