For all the gnashing of teeth surrounding the Braves’ very uncertain rotation options behind Mike Soroka and Max Fried, it really hasn’t been that bad. Through 14 games, the Braves have gone 3-0 in Fried starts, but 1-2 in Soroka starts, and a more-than-livable 5-3 in their other eight games. In short, despite the lack of actual good starting performances from the guys behind Soroka and Fried, the game results have been fine. Don’t panic, in other words.
Those starting performances have been improving by bits and pieces as well. Sean Newcomb was way too wild in his ineffective first start, and gave up a couple of homers while getting roughed up the second time out, but reined in both the walks and the homers to some extent on Thursday. Touki Toussaint followed up an unpleasant, six-run relief outing in his season debut with a pretty good four-inning start on August 1, but really shined in yesterday’s win over Toronto, tossing the longest, and arguably best, baseball of his brief career thus far, and setting a new career high with nine strikeouts. So, that all brings us to tonight’s scheduled starter: Kyle Wright.
The fifth overall pick in the 2017 amateur draft, Wright is still looking for not just his first good start of 2020, but his first unequivocally good (or even okay?) start of his career. In six starts so far, Wright has allowed an unthinkable 6.30 FIP / 5.89 xFIP (and hasn’t been much better as a reliever, at 6.07 / 4.91).
In his first start of 2020, Wright did the same thing as in his last start in 2019: get knocked around while grabbing just 10 outs, with a 3/3 K/BB ratio. In his second start, this past Sunday, he kept the Mets off the board, but walked four in 3 1⁄3 innings and was removed with two on, one out in the fourth. So, with Soroka down for the season, and the other non-Fried rotation members at least somewhat (Newcomb) or very much (Toussaint) stepping up their games in their last outings, it’s Wright’s turn to follow suit. To do so, he’ll have to tame the team that roughed him up in his first major league start on March 31, 2019: the Phillies.
Before we touch on the Braves’ be-pinstriped opponents, one key thing to watch for Wright in this game will be the continued evolution of his pitch mix and his pitches overall. In 2019, Wright worked primarily off his four-seam fastball, which is harder than average but generic movement-wise. He featured a very hard, mostly vertically-moving slider as a secondary offering, as well as a hard, super-sweeping curve that he threw around 12 percent of the time. A hard sinker with generic sink and a very generic changeup rounded out his offerings.
In 2020, things have been somewhat different for Wright. His slider has been his primary pitch, and he’s throwing it 1 mph harder while keeping its shape even tighter in terms of even less side-to-side movement. The four-seam fastball has lost a tick, but has added some tail, while the sinker is no longer always sinking. The changeup remains generic even as he’s thrown it more, and interestingly, the curveball has been very much de-emphasized in his arsenal as its exaggerated sweeping motion has diminished. It’s hard to say whether these things, alone or in combination, portend any specific improvements for Wright, but they’ve been interesting to track. In any case, Wright will try to use whatever arsenal evolution he can to do better against the Phillies than his 2019 debut, where he allowed five walks and a homer, along with three runs, in 4 1⁄3 innings of work.
Speaking of these Phillies, well... the Braves have played 14 games so far. The Phillies have completed just half that amount, going 3-4 over the last two weeks. They dropped the season-opening series to the Marlins, and then ended up in a pseudo-quarantine after a bunch of Marlins tested positive for COVID-19. They then played four games in four days against the Yankees, with a no-game day in there, splitting the series and a doubleheader within that series. Their scheduled starter, Vince Velasquez, hasn’t pitched in official action since July 26, when the Marlins creamed him for four runs, including two homers, in three innings.
The Braves are no strangers to Velasquez — he started two games against them (and also made a relief appearance) last season, with the Braves going 1-1 in those games. Velasquez has handled the Braves well in his career (3.33 FIP / 3.75 xFIP in 12 starts), though a fair bit of that was driven by his very good 2016. Since then, he’s been inconsistent at best, ineffective in an injury-marred 2017 and disappointing in 2019, but solid in 2018. We’ll see what happens, as the Braves try to keep rolling on after winning seven of nine, and the Phillies try to return to something resembling a normal game schedule.
The Braves managed to go just 9-10 against the 81-win Phillies last season, despite only losing their first (a sweep in Philadelphia) and last series of the season against them. They’ll hope for a better slate of results against their division rivals in this pandemic-shortened season.
Atlanta Braves @ Philadelphia Phillies
Friday, August 7, 2020
7:05 pm EDT
Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia, PA
TV: Fox Sports Southeast, MLB.tv
Radio: 680 AM/93.7 FM The Fan, WNNX 100.5, Braves Radio Network
XM Radio: XM Streaming 841