Bryse Wilson pitching

Orange County native and Atlanta Braves pitcher Bryce Wilson during a game in Atlanta earlier in the season.

 

On the afternoon of Oct. 16, 2020, Atlanta Braves pitcher Bryse Wilson was trying to stay calm as the minutes before game time ticked away like the popping of a fastball hitting a catcher’s mitt. It was Game 4 of the National League Championship Series. He was facing the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was pitching against three-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw.

Well-wishes and “good lucks” would blow up his phone since Wilson was tapped to pitch, his first-ever playoff start. He responded to family and his best friends back home in Orange County, but then shuts it all out and stays off his phone until after the game.

“Obviously, there’s a ton of nerves,” Wilson said. “But also, I had been pitching well, so there was a lot of confidence going in, too. For me, it was just focusing on going out there and executing a game plan. Get super-focused and get ready to get out there.”

A few hours later, Bryse Wilson was trying to keep his feet on the ground. The 22-year-old pitched six innings, giving up one run and allowing only two base runners. The Dodger batters didn’t just look lost against Wilson, they looked liked they’d been aimlessly wandering around a North Carolina corn maze for six innings.

Wilson struck out five and walked one. The Braves took a three games to one lead in the series, and were well positioned for a trip to the World Series. Atlanta’s newest pitching phenom was a good bet to earn his first World Series start and potentially beginning a journey to join the ranks of other Braves pitching legends, like Tommy Glavine, John Smoltz, and Greg Maddux.

“I was super excited about being able to pitch well,” he said. “I think the biggest things in my mind were the expectations to the rest of the team. We’re up 3-1. Let’s go to the World Series. We can take this thing to the final stage. Unfortunately, that didn’t end up happening.”

Wilson’s 2021 season, so far, has seen its share of ups and downs. Riding high on his late 2020 success, he pitched well during Spring Training, but was optioned to the Braves’ alternate training site. He has been called up to Atlanta more than once, and reassigned to the Triple A Gwinnett Stripers more than once. 

Such is life for a talented No. 5 starter on a team that prides itself on depth at pitching. The News of Orange recently caught up with the Orange High School graduate, and tossed a few questions to him.

NEWS OF ORANGE COUNTY: Aside from wanting to make the team as a regular starter, what were your goals going into the season?

BRYSE WILSON: Really, I just wanted to develop more consistency. In spring, I was pretty consistent. But at the beginning of the season, I was at times a little inconsistent. I’ve figured that out here a little of late, but going into spring, I just wanted to develop the consistency. I was still searching for my true identity as a pitcher, I guess you could say. That was something I wanted to focus on as well.

NOC: As a pitcher drafted to a team that has been, in recent history, pitching rich, do you feel like you would have a better chance with a team that had less of a pitching surplus?

BW: When you’re on a team that’s a World Series contender, they’re going to have depth, and there’s a ton of competition. I kind of embrace that competition. But at the same time, it’s also nice to have those other guys around, because they can really pitch and really know their stuff. You can learn so much. Every day you go into the field, you can learn something new from somebody different. And for me, you know that that’s the best part of being in this organization. Do I think I could be in the starting five somewhere else? Yes, of course. But I think everything I’ve been through since I debuted has led to where I am now. I truly believe that I’m much better pitcher now than I was even back when I pitched against the Dodgers last year. That’s how I look at it.

NOC: What was more exciting to you: Your Major League debut, or the playoff start? 

BW: You could probably say it’s almost equal excitement. That first start is something you’ll never forget, you know, that’s a lifelong goal and dream as a kid growing up, and you finally get to that point, there’s that excitement. But then, once that happens, the next goal you want is making that first playoff appearance.

NOC: Does your intensity level change between pitching at Gwinnett and pitching in Atlanta?

BW: I wouldn’t say my intensity does. I think there’s probably a little less adrenaline than in the big leagues, whether it’s stadium size, whether it’s competition, the fans. My intensity level itself doesn’t doesn’t go down. I’m still trying to perform well and help the team down there win, just like I would help the team in the big leagues. You trying to get better every single start.

NOC: Did you follow baseball growing up? 

BW: I guess if there was a team, it would be the Braves, but growing up, I was a huge football guy. That’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to go to college and play football. My brother (Peyton) is there right now (at N.C. State University). So, we didn’t watch a ton of baseball, maybe watch the World Series every year. But other than that, it was all football.

NOC: What led you to take the path to baseball?

BW: I think the writing was on the wall. I was good at football, I probably could have gone on to play in college. But it was just the different level that I was at when it came to baseball, rather than football. I was competitive within the state of North Carolina, made All-State (in high school), but in baseball I was getting All-American awards and getting national attention. I was at a different level in baseball than I was in football.

NOC: Who on the Braves do you feel like has taught you the most?

BW: If I had to give one name I would probably say (pitcher) Josh Tomlin. He’s an older guy with a ton of knowledge, going on his 11th year in the big leagues. For me, yeah, he helps me some with my stuff, my pitching repertoire and mechanics and whatnot. But a lot of what he helps me with is the mental side of it and coming to terms with the position I’m in, and embracing it to an extent and making the most of it. He’s helped me a ton with that.

NOC: In the last 50 years, baseball managers have used pitchers more in situations. A quality game for a starting pitcher is six innings, and then a reliever is brought in, and then a closer. Now a team will shuttle its No. 5 starter between the Majors and Triple A to make room for other position players as needed. How does this mentally affect you as a player?

BW: It’s a new thing, within the last five to 10 years of baseball. Sometimes it’s not great for the player, but at the end of the day, it makes sense from the business side, so you can’t really blame them for what they’re doing. They’re doing their job just like you’re trying to do yours. 

NOC: Do you ever find yourself star-struck facing certain batters?

BW: There is always a thought of, like, “Wow, this is cool. I’m facing Bryce Harper,” or “I’m facing Aaron Judge.” There’s always that feeling of excitement to be facing these guys that are obviously very, very good at what they do. But for me, it’s never like, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I’m facing this guy,” because those kinds of thoughts can start to mess with your confidence. Whoever steps in the (batter’s) box, whether it’s a rookie or a 10-year veteran, I need to have the mindset that I’m better than them and that I can get them out.

NOC: Is there relief knowing you don’t have to face (fellow Braves) Ronald Acuña Jr. or Freddie Freeman?

BW: I have to face them in Spring Training. Of course, it doesn’t mean anything. But, of course, it is great to have them on our team because they are such great hitters.

NOC: Obviously, Atlanta’s a big city, but you’re also traveling to places like Chicago, New York and Toronto. What do you miss most about Orange County?

BW: That’s where I grew up. All my friends and family are there and I miss them. I miss the kind of the laid back vibe to it. It’s slower, not fast-paced. I just miss the quietness of it.