Bryse Wilson makes uneven spring debut

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

Bryse Wilson was hit hard in his spring debut, allowing four hits and two runs in the first inning of a game the Braves lost to the Tigers, 5-1, Sunday at CoolToday Park.

Wilson is vying for one of two available rotation spots. Sunday won’t be remembered as his finest showing, though he showed the ability to rebound smoothly.

With one down in the first, Wilson allowed four consecutive hard-hit singles. He escaped the inning by coaxing a double play from Dawel Lugo. Wilson pitched a 1-2-3 second frame, inducing a pair of flyouts and a grounder.

“The first inning I was trying to do a little too much as far as throwing the cutter a little bit,” Wilson said. “The second inning I realized just the fastball, changeup — maybe cutter down and away to a righty where he can’t do too much with it — but stick with the changeup and fastball. Those are the strengths.”

For Wilson, it’s all about his off-speed pitches. He’s fastball-heavy, needing his changeup and slider to make strides in order to fulfill his potential. Wilson didn’t throw his slider Sunday, but as he pointed out, he found success with his changeup in the second frame.

The Braves are hosting a competition for two rotation spots. Wilson is competing with Felix Hernandez (who pitched Saturday), Kyle Wright and Sean Newcomb to open the season in the rotation.

It’s worth noting Wilson began last season in the rotation, starting the second game of the opening series in Philadelphia, but appeared in only five games the rest of the year.

“Everyone knows it’s there (the rotation competition),” Wilson said. “It’s four guys for two spots. But for me, I just want to be the best pitcher that I can be. It’s all about consistency. I’m still working on the slider. Didn’t throw it any today, but for me it’s about being consistent and commanding the zone. I’m getting closer and closer to realizing who I am as a pitcher.”

Wilson’s ceiling is very much undefined. He’s fallen under the radar among a plethora of talented young pitchers, and his gutsy debut in Pittsburgh, when he pitched five scoreless innings on Aug. 20, 2018, feels as if it were eons ago.

At worst, Wilson is solid pitching depth. It’d be an upset if he ultimately won one of the rotation openings, but he’ll have opportunities over the summer — injuries and spot starts will provide avenues — to either carve out a more established role with the Braves or build appeal to other franchises who could try acquiring him.

“The biggest thing for me, especially coming through the minors, I didn’t have a changeup,” Wilson said. “My changeup was pretty much nonexistent until I got to the big leagues, then it came out of nowhere. It was pretty much fastball-slider. I tell a lot of people, I made it to the big leagues off one pitch and that was my fastball. It’s just developing those offspeed pitches and realizing that changeup is my second best pitch and throwing it like it’s my second best pitch.”

Other notes from Sunday’s game:

• Towering lefty Kyle Muller had his first action of spring, putting on an erratic yet entertaining performance in the sixth inning. He allowed a lead-off single before hitting consecutive batters. He even skied a pitch to the backstop.

Muller calmed down and struck out the next two Tigers. But he walked the ensuing hitter, bringing home Detroit’s fourth run, and ending his afternoon. Still, Muller’s physical build and arm strength makes his potential clear. He just needs to hone his command.

“He relaxed and started breathing,” manager Brian Snitker said. “He started turning it loose. You saw what he’s capable of.”

• The Braves’ lone run came against Matt Manning, who relieved Detroit starter Ivan Nova. Ronald Acuna reached on an error for the second time in the game and was replaced by pinch-runner Shane Robinson, who swiped second base.

Ozzie Albies singled, advancing Robinson to third. Freddie Freeman brought him home on a sacrifice fly. Acuna, Albies and Freeman have hit the ground running, each having reached base to begin Saturday’s game as well.

• Pitcher Patrick Weigel had his first work of spring in the seventh inning. Weigel, who’s further distanced from Tommy John surgery in summer of 2017, tossed a clean inning with a grounder, flyout and strikeout.

While he probably won’t open the season with the club, Weigel could factor into the Braves’ bullpen plans later in the season.

“It was really good,” Snitker said. “Secondary stuff was good. Popped his fastball. It was nice.”