Kyle Wright’s first MLB start won’t be remembered as a masterpiece, but it was overshadowed by the Braves’ endless parade of walks.
The Braves issued nine walks and hit two batters, keying the Phillies to a 5-1 win and three-game sweep of the opening series. The Braves walked 20 Phillies in the games, with Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen and Miakel Franco each homering twice.
“We’re lucky we were in that game,” manager Brian Snitker said. “I don’t know. We have to rectify it somehow. We can’t keep living like that, playing close games.”
Wright’s first inning began swimmingly. He retired McCutchen and Jean Segura with little resistance. When Harper came up, he complicated matters.
Harper, whose presence was felt Saturday when he launched his first homer in a Phillies uniform, walked on five pitches. Wright then struggled to find the strike zone in chilly Philly conditions, issuing another pair of five-pitch walks to Rhys Hoskins and J.T. Realmuto.
“I felt like I was fighting my grips a lot,” Wright said. “Pretty much the start of every inning I felt OK. As the inning went on, the cold and the wind picks up. I’m not going to make excuses … I just have to find a way to pitch through it.”
He was bailed out by Odubel Herrera, who couldn’t help attacking the first pitch (a ball in the dirt) and ultimately striking out on four pitches.
Wright’s 30-pitch first inning was followed by a 13-pitch second. McCutchen took him deep to open the third and tie the game at 1. Harper just missed his own homer, limited to a double. After walking Hoskins, Wright coaxed a double play from Realmuto.
“My arm felt good, the ball was coming out pretty good,” Wright said. “I liked the way I competed. I wouldn’t say I like the way I pitched, but I really tried to get back in there.”
The fourth inning was Wright’s second 1-2-3 frame. He again struck out Herrera, this time on a nasty curve, before getting Cesar Hernandez to line out and Franco to ground out.
Erratic Wright resurfaced in the fifth. He won a battle with opposing starter Jake Arrieta, though it required an 11-pitch at-bat that prompted a standing ovation from the Philadelphia crowd. Wright walked McCutchen on six pitches then plunked Segura, at which point manager Brian Snitker summoned Max Fried from the bullpen.
Fried couldn’t stop the bleeding: He walked Harper and Hoskins, the latter of whom resulted in the go-ahead run. Realmuto lined out to score the other runner of Wright’s responsibility.
Wright’s box score will read mediocre, but he battled through stressful conditions on an evening he didn’t have his best stuff. His exit — and the Braves’ fifth-inning demise — was again perpetuated by walks.
“I still really, really, really like this kid (Wright),” Snitker said. “The sky’s the limit. The stuff, I saw some of those killer sliders, the fastball … There’s a lot to really, really like with this kid. And I liked the fact he stayed out there long enough to get his pitch count up a little bit. Next time he’ll be even more ready for his next start.
“Looking through everything, it was a horrible series for us, but there were some positives. Tonight, I wish the kid would’ve won his first. I could’ve given him the scorecards and all that and signed them for him. This young man’s going to have a really nice major league career because his stuff’s just way too good. He has too much upside and too much good going on.”
As promising as Wright’s flashes were, the Braves may soon be relying on him if they’re going to stay in the race. They’ll need him to continue his rapid maturation.
Be it Wright, Fried, Bryse Wilson or any of the Braves’ pitchers, they have to cut down on the bases on balls. They already changed pitching coaches and emphasized pounding the strike zone in spring. Through three games, they’ve yet to see a return on investment.
“It’s three games,” Snitker said. “If we were talking in July, it wouldn’t be anything. It’s always magnified in the beginning of the year, trying to get that first win and bust that egg. … As good as this club is that we just got done playing, I look at things that went on in this series, and I feel really good about our club.
“It’s just a matter of we’ll have to tweak a few things, make some adjustments and we’ll be fine. I have no doubt in my mind we have a good club. This is no indication of who we’re going to be.”
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