Bryse Wilson stood firm on the mound firing mid-90s strikes. He struck out the first two Pirates he saw, then induced a grounder for his first taste of the majors.
The 20-year old had a debut even he wasn’t aware would occur until noon Sunday. The Braves pondered his promotion a couple days ago, and Wilson traveled with the team to Pittsburgh on Sunday. They announced him as starter mere hours before Monday’s first pitch.
“I was not expecting it,” Wilson said.
And yet he was exceptional in his first start, producing perhaps the best first impression of the many received in 2018. Wilson threw five scoreless innings and became the youngest pitcher in MLB history to win a 1-0 game.
His parents, Chad and Tracey, were on hand to watch their son silence a sturdy lineup. The Pirates, who entered the day 5.5 games out of a wild card spot, didn’t have much margin for error. Their playoffs are already underway.
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That didn’t faze Wilson. The stocky right-hander – a former football player who confirmed he’s closer to 240 pounds than his listed 225 weight – looked like it was his 100th major league start. He attacked. He didn’t back down in adverse situations. He was opposing a big-name starter, Chris Archer, whom he outlasted.
“That’s his makeup,” manager Brian Snitker said. “He’s an aggressive kid that’s going to be on the attack.”
Wilson was the third 20-year-old starter to debut for the Braves this season, joining Mike Soroka and Kolby Allard. The Braves became the second team in 110 years to have four rookie starters win their debuts (Touki Toussaint joining the others).
Wilson allowed three hits over five innings. He struck out five and walked three, exiting after 87 pitches. He allowed two hits in the second, but pitched around both. He was tasked a two-on, one-out circumstance in his final frame as the bullpen loosened. He coaxed a double play from Corey Dickerson as the curtains fell on his night.
“In the back of my mind I knew I was one pitch away,” Wilson said. “Just wanted to keep making good pitches and we were able to get a ground ball, double play there to get me out.”
The rookie wasn’t given much with which to work. Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis’ back-to-back, two-out hits gave the Braves their only run in the first. Wilson saw early offense would be at a premium.
It didn’t unnerve him. His fastball topped at 97. His developing changeup looked ready for the bigs, as did his slider. Wilson pitched in high school two years ago. He pitched in High-A several months ago. If he was feeling pressure, it wasn’t evident.
He was served one run of support against a team desperate to take advantage of an untried starter. He knew from his first frame he was one mistake, one slip from a tied game.
“You just try to keep the same focus the whole time, whether it’s a one-run game or a five-run game,” Wilson said. “Keep making the same pitches and getting outs.”
While Wilson wasn’t present for the recent events, his team was somewhat reeling, needing a bounce back after a ruinous four-game sweep to the Rockies. The series might have been these Braves’ lowest point.
Turns out, the answer was their sudden spot starter who’s not even legally old enough to enjoy a post-game beer.
“About as good as it gets,” Snitker said. “Impressed all the way around. Carried himself like I expected. A lot of confidence. You wouldn’t know he’s 20. ... I’m sure we’ll see him again before the year’s over.”
Wilson joins the conglomerate of arms the Braves can plug into their unofficial six-man rotation. Like Toussaint a week ago, Wilson warrants an extended look. That’s a privilege he couldn’t have imaged so soon.
“This year’s been a lot of fun,” Wilson said. “I’ve just been blessed with opportunities that I’ve had.”
The Braves, possessing young arms in droves and striking exemplary balance between winning and maturation, probably feel the same way.