After a 7-6 defeat in Game 1 of the NLCS Tuesday, the Atlanta Braves head into a must-win situation for Game 2 Wednesday and arguably the biggest start of Kyle Wright’s young career. The Braves missed out on ample opportunities at the plate in Game 1, especially in the early going, but Max Fried’s struggles put them in a hole that they weren’t able to recover from. They will turn to Wright who went from a gigantic question mark to one of their most consistent options in 2022.
Coming off of a good performance in the 2021 World Series, Wright came to spring training in hopes of locking down a spot in the rotation. He did that and much more posting a 3.19 ERA and a 3.58 FIP in 180 1⁄3 innings across 30 starts. He posted a career-best strikeout rate and cut his walk rate nearly in half over previous stints in the majors. Wright also led the league in wins with 21 and was the first Braves pitcher since Russ Ortiz in 2003 to win at least 20 games.
“Definitely feel a lot more confident for sure. I think I learned a lot from last year,” Wright said when asked about his season. “I’ve continued to learn more about myself this year. So I feel like I know who I am. It’s a whole lot more confident. I think even last year in the World Series there were a couple of questions, can I still do this? After my first outing I felt I did and I’ve continued to build off of that, and here we are.”
The Braves are facing a familiar opponent in the Phillies whom they played 19 times during the regular season. Wright made three starts against Philadelphia and allowed six runs in 19 innings overall. However, the Phillies showed Tuesday that what happened in the regular season doesn’t matter all that much. They had to grind their way to the end just to secure a spot in the postseason and then upset the Cardinals in the Wild Card Series. They rolled into Game 1 in Atlanta playing well and confident and they showed it early as they battered Fried for eight hits and six runs in less than four innings.
“I feel it can go both ways,” Wright said when asked about the familiarity between the Braves and Phillies. “We know them but they know us at the same time. So it really comes down to who executes better I think. Ideally I execute better than they do, but you never know. They’re a really good team. Have a really good lineup.”
“A lot of experience over there, so it’s going to be a tough challenge for sure, but just kind have to stay within my plan and control what I can control and kind of whatever happens from there happens.”
Fried’s struggles aside, the Braves had ample opportunities in the early going of Game 1. Ranger Suarez issued a season-high five walks and was out of the game before the end of the fourth inning. He was able to minimize the damage though allowing just three hits and a run. Atlanta loaded the bases in the first and the third, but were unable to cash in a single run.
The going won’t get any easier against Zack Wheeler on Wednesday. The Braves and Wright thought will turn to their strength which is a tight nit clubhouse that has grown together through five-straight postseason appearances.
“It‘s really fun. I feel like I’ve gotten to know a lot of these guys since I first got drafted by the Braves,” Wright said. “So kind of came up with a big group of them. It’s been a lot of fun because we’re a close-knit group. The guys we’ve acquired or gotten over the years or gotten this year, I feel have just fit right in. Feel like I’ve known them forever. I can point to Matt Olson. The second he got in the locker room felt like he fit right in. He’s a great guy.”
“That says a lot about what Alex tries to do here and that’s get good guys, good character. I feel like that really helps us grow as a team.”
They will be put to the test again Wednesday.