Kyle Wright's return helps, but the Braves will need to score more runs here soon

Atlanta Braves starter Kyle Wright boost the rotation, but the lineup must produce runs to win.
Atlanta Braves starter Kyle Wright boost the rotation, but the lineup must produce runs to win. / Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
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The Atlanta Braves activated Kyle Wright to bolster a struggling rotation, but a pitcher can’t win without runs, and the lineup hasn’t provided many of those lately. 

The Braves rotation came into camp looking for a fifth starter and started the season looking for a fourth and fifth starter. Jared Shuster and Dylan Dodd were given the first shot but found Major League hitters harder to navigate.

Bryce Elder returned and made two successful starts to ease the pain and earned a longer look, and Wright’s return gives the team a much-needed boost. He’ll start tonight’s game against the Reds 367 days after allowing two hits without a run and striking out six Reds in six+ innings.

Atlanta Braves Injury Updates – Pitcher version.

We learned during Sunday’s game that Max Fried wasn’t throwing yet, so his return is at least two weeks away.

Late this morning, Mark Bowman updated earlier reports on Mike Soroka’s first Minor League outing and slipped in some not-unexpected but still disappointing news on Ian Anderson.

The specter of UCL surgery looked large once we heard Anderson was on the IL for elbow issues. While not confirming it. Bowman’s Tweet strongly implies he’s headed that direction.

Jeff Passan later tweeted that his sources said Anderson would have surgery. Passan indicated Anderson would return in 2024, but today teams – including the Atlanta Braves - are allowing pitchers the full 18 months doctors always suggested for a complete recovery. 

On the upside, Michael Soroka threw 3 2/3 innings last week against the Orioles AAA team in Norfolk, allowing one run on four hits and striking out four of the 14 batters faced without a walk.

He was on the bump earlier today, throwing four innings against Memphis allowing one run on three hits striking out five, and walking two. He also came off the mound to field a soft grounder and threw the runner out.

Soroka threw 69 pitches today, so I’d expect at least two more starts before he joins the Braves.

Atlanta Braves right fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. is entirely healthy and once again an elite player.
Atlanta Braves right fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. is entirely healthy and once again an elite player. / Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta Braves Lineup Isn’t Hitting on All Cylinders

Before I start, I know we’re only 11 games into the season, but the lineup isn’t giving pitchers much help.

After last night’s walk-off win over the Reds, the lineup’s batting .269/.347/.417/.765 with a 102 OPS. That line exists because of Acuna. Olson, Riley, Arcia, and a finally settling in Murphy are batting a combined .318/.418/.538/.957.

Ignoring White and Adrianza haven’t had a hit in a combined five PA, the rest of the lineup is batting a combined .215/.267/.298/.565. It’s not a chock that Ozuna’s at the bottom of the pile, batting a puny .071/.212/.286/.498, and his line only looks that good because both hits were homers.

With apologies to Seth Myers, I’ll take a closer look.

A Closer Look at Two Key Players

It appears everyone thought Travis d’Arnaud was hitting well before landing on the concussion IL, and as a DH he was, posting a .500/.500/.611/1.111 line (9-18). When he caught, TDA batted only .133/.133/.200/.333 (2-15), 

Eddie Rosario hasn’t found a bat with hits in it. He’s always been a streaky hitter, and effectively losing last season due to eye surgery and adjusting to his new eyes was a setback. I expect Eddie to catch fire at some point and hit 11 homers in a month, as he did in April 2019. I hope that month starts soon.

Ozzie killed pitching in Spring Training, but that hasn’t translated to the regular season. Baseball Savant shows he’s not consistently hitting the ball hard. His 84.3 average exit velocity and 27.8% hard-hit rate are down from 88.9 and 34.0 in 2019. His 7.3-degree average launch angle and a 2.7% barrel rate are also significantly lower than his 15.6 and 6.6, respectively, in 2019.

The Marcell Ozuna Conundrum

Like Ozzie, Ozuna hammered pitchers in Spring Training but is so far unable to duplicate his recovery when it counts. Both of his hits are homers; the first came with the Braves up 4-0 over the Nats, the second off a hanger from Nick Martinez leading off the third on Saturday.

I’d like to have the same confidence in Ozuna as I have in Ozzie and Eddie, but his peripherals, as shown on Baseball Savant, don’t support it. 

Ignoring the outlier that was 2020, Ozuna’s ability to hit fastballs and offspeed pitches declined in every season since 2018. He had the best year in his career hitting breaking pitches in 2022, but that looks like an outlier based on limited ABs. So, what’s changed?

I’m not a hitting coach and don’t play one on TV, but I’ve always been amazed at the way he stepped in the bucket, opened his hips so quickly, and still hit balls out to center and right. This year it doesn’t appear he’s stepping as far towards the third base dugout or opening his hips as quickly. Whether that’s intentional after his struggles, I can’t say, but as bad as his original approach was, it worked for him, and this one isn’t. 

Atlanta Braves catcher Sean Murphy  hit his first career walk-off homer to beat the Reds on April 10,
Atlanta Braves catcher Sean Murphy hit his first career walk-off homer to beat the Reds on April 10, / Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Thoughts That Don’t Fit Elsewhere

The Atlanta Braves can’t expect Hilliard and White to play every day. That isn’t why the Braves acquired them or what their history shows as their strength. The Braves need Rosario to find his hit tool quickly.

Harris wasn’t knocking the cover off the ball when he injured his back, but he’s a hitter, and he will hit when he returns, though he’ll be starting from scratch again.

I wish I could say TDA’s concussion didn’t concern me, but a concussion is such a problematic injury the outcome is hard to predict, and this isn’t his first one.

Catchers not named Realmuto or Posey are rarely the regular cleanup hitter. I believe Murphy can be that guy, and hope that’s correct because he’s the best hope we have today.

 At his best, Ozuna exuded joy from crushing homers and driving in runs, but that joy isn’t as evident now. Perhaps it’s the culmination of two years of injury and personal issues, but he doesn’t look like a player having fun. I understand why he may feel that way, but success and happiness are linked. Unless he remembers he’s there to have fun, I’m not sure how things improve.

That’s a Wrap

Fans want the Atlanta Braves to bench Ozuna, but what are the alternatives? With TDA on the IL, the bench consists of Hilliard, Pillar, White, Tromp, and Adrianza, none of whom offer a significant improvement. Unless something's changed, the Braves have no intention of using Grissom in the outfield. That may change if Arcia's bubble doesn't burst, but for now, the club wants him to play shortstop.

Putting a bow on this one in three sentences:

  • Atlanta Braves’ pitching looks like it’s getting stronger in the next few weeks.
  • The four, five, and six hitters must hit sooner rather than later.
  • I hope Arcia’s start isn’t a mirage.

I hope to see Wright back in form tonight and end the day with an Atlanta Braves win.