Braves need Kyle Wright to be good again after ‘Aha!’ year

Braves starting pitcher Kyle Wright works out during spring training earlier this month at CoolToday Park in North Port, Florida. (Hyosub Shin /



Braves starting pitcher Kyle Wright works out during spring training earlier this month at CoolToday Park in North Port, Florida. (Hyosub Shin /

NORTH PORT, Fla. — Braves lefty Max Fried is the staff’s No. 1 starter. Spencer Strider’s “stuff” is so good that he should be a strikeout machine for a full season like he was for 20 starts in 2022. Old pro Charlie Morton is looking for a bounce-back season in the twilight of his distinguished career. The No. 5 starter is a question mark, but isn’t that how it goes for most teams?

Then there’s Braves right-hander Kyle Wright. Less than two years ago, Wright looked like a failed prospect. Wright was so good last season that now he’s being asked if he aims to be an ace, and the question doesn’t sound outlandish.

“I don’t look too far into that, really,” Wright said this week at Braves spring training. “Quite frankly, we’ve got two guys that are better than I am.”

That’s Fried and Strider. The Braves can’t expect Wright to be as good as those two. It also might be unrealistic to think Wright will be as good as he was in 2022, when he compiled a 3.19 ERA over 180 ⅓ innings. That seemed unfathomable when Wright was struggling to stick in the majors from 2019-21.

The Braves do need Wright to be an effective, consistent starter this season. Sprinkle in the occasional bad day among a run of good starts, like a No. 3 guy on a good team. Don’t have three bad outings in a month, like a No. 4 guy on a bad team.

If Wright can do that, then it would take some pressure off the pitchers above and below him in the rotation.

Then it wouldn’t matter so much if Strider, 24, regresses a bit in his first full season as a starter or if Fried isn’t good in nearly every outing. Wright as a good No. 3 starter would mean Morton isn’t being asked to carry too much of the load at 39 years old, and the Braves would have more breathing room to churn through No. 5 starters until they find the right guy.

Wright showed the ability to be a good No. 3 starter in 2022. That was after he had a 6.56 ERA with the Braves from 2018-21. Much more was expected from the No. 5 pick in the 2017 draft out of Vanderbilt. To figure out what was holding him back, Wright in 2020 started working with Zach Sorensen, the Braves’ mental skills coach.

Wright said Sorensen helped him build confidence, but the pitching results still were subpar. Things didn’t “click” for Wright until he started watching video of his games at Vanderbilt. Wright noticed that, somewhere along the way, he stopped carrying his full momentum toward the plate while delivering pitches.

Once Wright started focusing on changing that, it unlocked the full potential of his pitches. Wright immediately started seeing results at Triple-A Gwinnett, where he posted a 2.18 ERA over his final 13 starts of 2021.

“Really, within a week, it was like, ‘There it is,’” Wright said. “Not to be cocky, but I felt like I was as good as anyone.”

He proved it with two strong outings against the Astros in the 2021 World Series. Wright followed that with a great 2022 season. He was the only effective starter for the Braves during their loss to the Phillies in the National League Division Series.

After being “so close yet so far” from the big leagues, Wright finally showed that he belonged.

“There is no feeling like when you are kind of lost and searching, and then you find it,” he said. “It really was an ‘Aha!”

It could be the case that Wright has figured it out for good, or at least as much as that’s possible in the often-mysterious game of baseball. After all, Wright now has pitched many more good innings than bad in the majors. Maybe what we saw from Wright from the 2021 postseason through last season is his true ability and what came before that now is the outlier. If that’s the case, then Wright should have no problem being a good starter in the middle of the rotation.

Wright’s growing confidence correlated with him throwing off-speed pitches more often, especially curveballs. Last season, Wright got swinging strikes on curveballs 33.2% of the time and batters hit only .211 when they put them in play.

“I noticed once I made those mechanical changes, immediately my sinker and curveball were much, much better, a lot sharper, better extension,” Wright said. “I realized I started throwing more strikes.”

Arm fatigue was the only real downside of Wright’s 2022 season. It forced him to push back starts in August and September. Wright said the issue didn’t prompt him to change his offseason regimen because it was a result of pitching the most innings in a season by far in his life.

Wright has been limited in spring training because he received a cortisone injection in his right shoulder last month. He’s scheduled to throw a bullpen session Friday and be ready in time to be included on the opening-day roster.

Eventually we’ll see if Wright can have another strong season. He’s more experienced than Strider but doesn’t get the same benefit of the doubt because few pitchers overpower hitters like Strider. He struck out 202 batters over 131 ⅔ innings in 2022. Wright also isn’t on the same level as Fried. He finished among the top five pitchers in NL Cy Young Award voting in two of the past three years while posting a 2.68 ERA over 69 starts.

The Braves don’t need Wright to be as good as those two. They just need him to be good.

“It’s about running my own race,” he said. “I don’t have to be better than anyone (else). I just have to be the best that day that I pitch. That’s my goal.”