BRADENTON, Fla. — Bryse Wilson was only 22 when he started Game 4 of the 2020 NLCS, outdueling Clayton Kershaw as the Atlanta Braves beat the Los Angeles Dodgers to take a 3-1 series lead.
So it was hard for Wilson to swallow that the Braves traded him to the Pittsburgh Pirates less than a year later, even more difficult to digest when they went on to win the World Series last fall.
“A lot of mixed feelings,” Wilson said. “Obviously, I’m super happy for those guys. I’d been with a lot of them for five, six years. Obviously, I’d wanted to be there but I couldn’t be more happy with this team. There’s a lot of opportunities here. There’s a lot of potential as well.”
Wilson’s weight was proving problematic to him reaching his potential, leading the 6-foot-1, 250-pound right-hander to drop 15 pounds in the offseason in an effort to improve his flexibility and mobility on the mound and rediscover what once made him such a promising prospect.
What Wilson was missing was consistency in his mechanics and the ability to repeat his delivery. Opponents batted .311 against his four-seam fastball and the putaway percentage on his sinker dropped from 28.6% to 15.2% as Wilson went 1-4 with a 4.91 ERA and gave up eight home runs in 40 innings over eight starts for the Pirates.
“The biggest thing we talked about with him was what’s your identity, (talking) about creating your identity,” Pirates pitching coach Oscar Marin said. “He’s done that with his pitch usages and what he’s done in the offseason to improve some of his pitches. I think it’s really easy to forget how young he is because of the experience he’s had at a young age.”
Dropping the extra pounds has “made a world of difference” to Wilson, who credits it to a slight tick in velocity after he hit 94.5 mph against the Minnesota Twins this past Friday. Wilson really notices it when he’s playing catch or throwing off the mound, where he’s scheduled to start against the Twins again on Wednesday at Fort Myers.
“That is where I see it the most,” Wilson said. “It’s easier to get my body into the right position. I don’t have to force it there. It’s just to where it becomes muscle memory so it’s about getting to that point.”
A bigger difference is that Wilson is no longer carrying the weight of the world with him every outing. The Braves bounced him back and forth between Triple-A and the majors and from the starting rotation to the bullpen, with 15 starts and eight relief appearances in three-plus seasons.
Dealing with such uncertainty after making his major league debut before he reached legal drinking age shook Wilson’s confidence, something he also spent the offseason searching to regain.
“Getting to the big leagues at the age that I did, and going up and down and the experience that I’ve had over the past three years with the Braves and now with the Pirates, I’ve learned a lot,” Wilson said . “I got a lot stronger, going through some of that stuff. It’s definitely helped me get to where I am and develop the confidence that I have going into the season.”
Wilson is competing for a spot in the starting rotation, so he’s focusing on his improvement in spring training. He piggybacked with lefty Dillon Peters against the Toronto Blue Jays on March 19 and gave up three runs on five hits, including a two-run home run to Matt Chapman.
Against the Twins this past Friday, Wilson allowed only one hit in 2 2/3 innings but walked three batters and threw only 31 of his 54 pitches for strikes. He found that he was too quick in his delivery, causing his four-seamer to go too far up and his sinker and changeup to go down. Wilson got four consecutive Twins to strike out looking, continually throwing glove-side two-seamers when they wouldn’t take a swing.
That’s something he can build on in a critical season of his career.
“It’s kind of like the first season; I can get fully established in my eyes,” Wilson said. “But, for me, I’m just gonna take it start to start, really focus on my bullpens and get something out of them and try to accomplish something better every day. I’m not really looking at it long term, just start to start to start.”
Wilson is looking forward to receiving his World Series ring, for which he’s already been fitted after going 2-3 with a 5.88 ERA in eight starts for the Braves before being sent to the Pirates in the Richard Rodriguez trade. It’s symbolic of how far he’s come and how far he has to go with a young pitching staff for a team coming off a 101-loss season.
“I wouldn’t say it’s bittersweet,” Wilson said. “At the end of the day, I get a ring. A lot of people will probably say there’s an asterisk beside that ring but, at the end of the day, I have a World Series ring. I’m hoping we can accomplish that here.”
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .