Steven Wright, one of the very few active knuckleball pitchers in the Major Leagues was on the hill yesterday for the Red Sox, facing the Seattle Mariners.
It was his first start this year and third appearance with the Red Sox. He produced the same steady performance that has been a sorely missed characteristic in this years starting rotation.
Simply put, Wright did his job starting for the injured Justin Masterson.
This can't be said of most of the current Red Sox starting rotation, with the exception of Rick Porcello who is the only starter to go a minimum of 5 innings per start this season. Porcello is holding on to a 4.26 ERA over his eight starts this season and with only two losses where he was backed by 3 or less runs from the offense.
Clay Buchholz is tagged as the number one starter of this rotation but is sporting a 4.93 ERA over nice starts and has been all over the place with regards to any kind of consistency on his day to take the ball. Going over six innings in just four of his starts nine starts this season his 2-4 record is also a product of no offense. He lost two of these starts with the offense only giving him 2 or fewer runs, which again is something that only a few pitchers would be able to win with.
Now anything else in this rotation can be easily swapped out with Wright, in a blink of an eye you have a starter with an ERA dangerously close to half of what they are bringing.
Joe Kelly is having such control problems that he is on track to walk a career high number of batters while also giving up a career high number of hits. His ERA after seven starts is a whopping 5.58 and he has pitched only into the sixth inning in three starts.
Why is Wright not starting for Kelly?
Why is Wright not starting for Wade Miley, who's starts have been mostly atrocious, so bad that we will just refer you to his game logs and let you figure out that he is lucky to have just a 5.80 ERA over seven starts. These are for Miley also career worst numbers.
As he stated in his postgame interview after going five innings allowing three runs (two earned) on five hits, walking one and striking out four, he will be ready in a few days to do it again. The Red Sox couldn’t have asked for much more from Wright, after throwing 83 pitches he will be available for another start or maybe even available out of the pen.
So what has changed for Wright this year to make his knuckleball more effective?
When Wright first came to the Red Sox in 2012, he threw his knuckleball at one speed which is similar to how R.A. Dickey throws his. On average he has a little less velocity (74.6 vs 75.7 MPH) than Dickey, but all that has changed this year.
"I still feel like my knuckleball is a little bit more like R.A.'s as far as velocity ... but I'm trying to pitch like Wakefield as far as adding and subtracting to the velocity of the pitch," Wright said. "I remember the first year I came over here. I threw one knuckleball and that's just at one speed. But now I've really been concentrating over the past couple of years adding and subtracting (speeds) so I get two or three knuckleballs vs. just one."
So that is the difference we are seeing in Wright's performance, by changing speeds more he is able to mess with the timing of the hitters.
"Especially if the knuckleball is working, then it's a huge bonus," he said. "If it's not (moving well), it's is something I can use to hopefully find it by throwing slower, harder, slower and kind of just going back and forth. And a lot of that I learned from Wakefield. Just talking with Wakefield."
Wright and Wakefield have sat down together to watch video the past three spring trainings. He also drove with his wife and daughter to Wakefield's Florida home in Melbourne where they went to a park nearby to work out together.
"Whenever I get a chance to talk with (Wakefield) and hang out with him, I'm going to take full advantage so we would just watch a little bit of video and go over mechanical stuff," Wright added. "I'm not trying to replicate what he did. But when somebody does it successfully for 19 years, (you listen). You just take what he did and what he knows and what he's showing me, you try to take it from and try to figure out a way to make it work for you."
Wright also talks with former knuckleballer Charlie Hough quite often.
"He's definitely helped me out a lot over the years and he continues to," Wright said. "I go to him before spring training every year to work with him. And it's the same thing. You take a little bit from him, a little bit from R.A., a little bit from Wake, a little bit from (Tom) Candiotti and you try to get as much information as you can. But in the end, you're your own individual pitcher. And for me, I had to figure out what type of pitcher I was."
It has been tough for Wright as he still has an option remaining, meaning he can be sent back and forth to the minor leagues as many times as the Red Sox need throughout this season. This is what he has had to endure since being was added to the 40-man roster following the 2012 season.
"2013 and last year there was a little bit of frustration," Wright said about bouncing back and forth. "A lot of it is because this is where you want to be. You don't want to be in Triple A. So whenever you do get sent down, even if they tell you you're coming up for a day, it's still like, you don't want to be down there. This is where you want to be. So I wouldn't say I'd get frustrated. It's just a little disappointing because you're going to Triple A. But in the end, for me, I try to go out every day whether it's here or Pawtucket and prepare to get ready to pitch here. Because down there you're working on stuff. Here you've got to do it."
Imagine how tiring the travel can be, being promoted to the Majors means travel to the teams location, pitching a spot start and then returning to the minors the next day.
"The traveling does (get tiring) but getting called up never gets tiring," he said. "No matter if it's a day, a week or a month or a year. The fact that you get an opportunity to pitch in the big leagues and be in a big league clubhouse — how many people can say that they've done that on the playing side? So I definitely don't take any day for granted. I definitely try to go out there and whenever I get an opportunity do the best I can."
The Red Sox seem to have some trust in Wright that he can be an important part of the pitching staff, whether as a reliever or starter, in the years to come.
"I think having me go through the process here, being here for 17 years, they kind of get it," Wakefield said about the organization's trust in Wright. "So they're going to give him a lot of opportunity because of what I did before him."
Wright is aware that historically the the Red Sox understand the value of having a knuckleballer in their organization, though he would like to minimize his time in the minors.
"A lot if it is continuing to go out there, throwing quality knuckleballs in the zone, showing I can pitch up here and then you earn the respect," he said. "Last year I had more (respect) than I had the year before and this year I have more than I had last year. And so it's more of just trying to keep that trust to where if a situation does arrive where I can get a start, my name is at least in the conversation."
With this years starting rotation, the lack of high level pitching acquisitions and Wright seeming to have matured his knuckleball into the form that is needed to land a spot in the Majors, he is not only in the conversation.
He seems to have all the Wright stuff to be spending less time traveling and more time baffling Major League hitters with his knuckleball.
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More by Eric D. Schabell