Short start by Wright continues trend, sinks Braves

Credit: Atlanta Braves

Braves pitcher Kyle Wright explains how he surrendered five runs on three walks and three hits in the third inning of a 5-2 loss to the Rays.

Credit: Atlanta Braves

For the third consecutive game, the Braves’ starting pitcher had an alarmingly short night.

Rookie Kyle Wright lasted only 2-2/3 innings in his first start of the season Tuesday at Tampa Bay, surrendering five runs on three walks and three hits in the third inning of a game the Braves would lose 5-2 to the Rays.

Wright’s outing followed back-to-back games in which Braves starters Sean Newcomb and Mike Foltynewicz worked 3-1/3 innings each. Foltynewicz was designated for assignment after his start Monday.

Just five games into the season, concerns about the Braves’ starting rotation beyond Nos. 1 and 2 starters Mike Soroka and Max Fried have been compounded.

“Those guys are great at the top,” Wright said of Soroka and Fried. “I’m going to really focus even more on what they’re doing and how they’re preparing. … I definitely want to feed off those guys and try to do what they do and raise my game.”

Asked after Tuesday’s game to assess the Braves’ starting pitching after one time through the five-man rotation, manager Brian Snitker said: “Well, after Soroka and (Fried), it was a little rough. So we’re just going to have to shore up the back end, the back three, because those (top two) guys aren’t going to go undefeated. We’ve got a lot of work to do from the last three. So we’ll see.”

Wright started strong Tuesday, striking out the first two batters he faced and allowing only an infield single through two innings.

“Those first two innings were great,” he said. “It was exactly how I want to start a game. I’ve just got to continue to do that through the whole start.”

But in the third inning, he lost control, command and grip of the baseball. He walked the bases full, and three consecutive two-out singles by Yoshi Tsutsugo, Jose Martinez and Joey Wendle plated four runs and ended Wright’s night. A wild pitch by reliever Josh Tomlin scored an inherited runner with the inning’s fifth run, giving the Rays a 5-1 lead.

“You walk three guys in an inning -- balls are going to find holes, they’re going to get hits,” Wright said. “Guys are too good to give three free bases, particularly in one inning.

“Once those runners got on base, it kind of sped up a little bit,” Wright said. “I lost grip and was too worried about the things I shouldn’t be worried about. I’ve got do a better job of ‘next hitter, next pitch’ and just execute the next one. … I think it’s a good learning experience for me. After talking with some of the guys, talking some things over, I feel like I’ll do a much better job of learning from that and extending my outing.”

Wright’s spot in the rotation seems secure for now.

“That’s what he needs to do. Keep running him out there,” Snitker said after Tuesday’s game. “This kid, he has all the stuff. He needs to pitch. The only way he’s going to learn is to go out there at this level and pitch.

“You see that stuff for his first two innings, and that is something really, really good.”

The starting pitching wasn’t the Braves’ only shortcoming at Tropicana Field. Braves batters had 31 strikeouts in the two games: 19 on Monday, a franchise record for a nine-inning game, and 12 on Tuesday. Freddie Freeman, serving as the designated hitter, had a four-strikeout game Tuesday and stranded seven baserunners. The Braves loaded the bases with no out in the third inning, but got only one run as two strikeouts defused the threat.

Through five games, the Braves have struck out a National League-high 64 times, including 12 times by Ronald Acuna.

“Not yet,” Snitker said when asked if the strikeouts are starting to concern him. “This team has never historically been a big strikeout team. We’ve faced some really good pitching. We’re going to have to adjust, though. We’ve got to change something because we’re going to continue to face good pitching.”

For the Braves, a bright spot was catcher Alex Jackson’s first big-league hit, a third-inning double into the left-field corner that broke a personal 0-for-17 drought dating to last year.

“You know what, it was a huge weight off my shoulders,” Jackson said. “It’s been a long time coming. Being able to do that and get in scoring position, it definitely is one to remember.

“No matter how much say, ‘Hey, look, I’m not worried about this, not worried about that,’ that pressure is always on you. So when I got to second, I took probably the biggest breath I’ve taken in a while.”

Jackson collected his second big-league hit on a fifth-inning single.

The Braves’ bullpen had another good night, with Tomlin, Luke Jackson, Tyler Matzek and Shane Greene holding the Rays scoreless after the third inning. But the damage had been done against Wright.

The loss completed a 2-3 season-opening trip for the Braves, who won two of three from the Mets and lost two of two to the Rays.

Both the Braves and Rays headed from St. Petersburg to Atlanta after the game. The same teams will play Wednesday and Thursday nights at Truist Park, with the first of those inter-league games being the Braves’ home opener, albeit without fans in the ballpark.

The Braves have the top of their rotation scheduled to pitch the next two nights: Soroka vs. the Rays’ Charlie Morton on Wednesday and Fried vs. Ryan Yarbrough on Thursday.

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