By PAUL NEWBERRY, AP Sports Writer
ATLANTA (AP) — Ronald Acuña Jr. was the star attraction.
Kyle Wright is becoming must-see, as well.
Acuña went 1 for 5 with two stolen bases in his return to the Braves lineup and Wright turned in another stellar performance, giving Atlanta its first series win of the season with a 5-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Thursday night.
Wright (3-0) pitched three-hit ball over a career-high seven innings as the World Series champion Braves, off to a sluggish start, made it two of three over the Cubs.
“I didn’t really have my stuff,” Wright said. “I was just able to kind of keep finding my way through innings. It got to a point where I had a little better stuff, a little bit better command, and I was able to get through the seventh.”
Austin Riley and Dansby Swanson hit solo homers off former Braves pitcher Drew Smyly (1-2), while Adam Duvall provided some insurance with a two-run shot against Ethan Roberts in the eighth.
Wearing sparkly, gold-topped cleats with matching armbands and batting gloves, Acuña grounded out twice, struck out twice and punched an opposite-field single to right in his first big league game since July 10, 2021, when he sustained a season-ending knee injury at Miami.
“I was just extremely excited,” he said through an interpreter. “I think the adrenaline level was at a maximum. Those first few at-bats, I couldn’t contain myself.”
A pair of stolen bases seemed to back up his pregame assessment that his reconstructed right knee actually made him faster than before he tore his ACL.
“Hopefully it’s just tip of the iceberg,” Acuña said.
He also showed off his defensive skills in right field. On Jason Heyward’s liner off the fence, Acuña played the carom perfectly and held the Cubs player to a single.
“It’s just the kind of play you anticipate,” Acuña said. “You know who’s hitting in that moment. and how they can run. You just have to anticipate the play and react to it. It’s preparation.”
While much of the attention was on Acuña rejoining the Braves, it was Wright who starred again.
He has pitched 24 innings over his first four starts, allowing just 14 hits and three runs for an ERA of 1.13. In a sign of how nasty his stuff is, Wright has recorded 34 strikeouts with just six walks — four of those coming against the Cubs. He also hit a batter but benefitted from a couple of double plays — one of which he started — while allowing only one runner past second base.
Wright looked like a first-round bust as he struggled to gain a foothold in the majors over the last four seasons. Bouncing up and down between the majors and minors, he combined to go 2-8 with a 6.56 ERA over 21 appearances.
Finally, the talented right-hander seems to have figured things out. Coming off a career-best 11 strikeouts against the Marlins, he rang up eight more Chicago hitters.
“I’m in a much better spot,” Wright said. “It definitely gives me confidence going forward. I can learn a lot more from this outing than the ones where I just threw it really well.”
Smyly went 4 2/3 innings, surrendering five hits, walking one and striking out four.
The Cubs scored their lone run in the second without picking up a hit, taking advantage of Wright walking the first two hitters.
With runners at first and third and two outs, Nico Hoerner appeared to have made a baserunning blunder when he was caught off first by a pickoff throw from Wright.
But the rundown went on long enough for Alfonso Rivas to sprint home from third before Hoerner was tagged out.
For now, the Braves say Acuña won’t play on travel days or in day games after night games.
That would seem to rule him out for Friday night’s contest at Texas to start a three-game weekend series.
Not so fast, Acuña countered.
“I don’t know who said the plan is for me not to play,” he said, bursting into laughter. “The way I’m looking at it, I’m playing tomorrow.”
The Braves placed catcher Manny Piña on the 10-day injured list, retroactive to Monday, with left wrist inflammation. William Contreras was recalled from Triple-A Gwinnett to serve as the backup behind Travis d’Arnaud. The move came just in time for Contreras to be reunited with older brother Willson Contreras, the Cubs’ starting catcher. Before the game, the brothers carried out the lineup cards to home plate, gave each other a hug and posed for pictures.
Cubs: RH Kyle Hendricks (1-1, 3.98) faces Brewers RH Adrian Houser (1-2, 3.52) on Friday to start a three-game weekend series at Milwaukee.
Braves: RH Ian Anderson (1-1, 5.40 ERA) gets the start as Atlanta opens a three-game series at Texas. RH Spencer Howard (0-1, 14.40) will go for the Rangers.
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