Major League Baseball has a new member in the knuckleball club that includes former Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield, Charlie Hough, Tom Candiotti, the Niekro brothers and current Blue Jay R.A. Dickey. Gentleman of the fluttering, often frustrating pitching fraternity, please welcome Steven Wright.
The Red Sox called up Wright up Wednesday to add an arm to a thin Sox bullpen. The move paid off as Wright knuckled his way through 5 2/3 innings of relief Thursday afternoon and earned his first big league win. Wright allowed no runs on three hits and two walks while striking out a pair.
Manager John Farrell said, "He was the story of the day from the pitching side of things, clearly. We needed every pitch that he could give us and just an outstanding job on his part."
Things have not always been so easy for the 28-year-old Wright. He was the Cleveland Indians second-round pick out of the University of Hawaii in 2006. Wright made his Single-A debut with the Lake County Captains in 2007. He went 4-7. It's interesting to note that when Wright was drafted the Indians farm director was none other than John Farrell.
Wright wasn’t a bad minor league pitcher. He just wasn't a great one. In his first three seasons Wright went 26-16 with an ERA over 4.50.
In 2010, Wright was at a career crossroads--give up on dreams of reaching the majors or make a drastic change. Wright started throwing the knuckleball.
Wright had dabbled with the pitch in his career, but had never thrown it in a game. The Indians brought in former big league knuckleballer Tom Candiotti to work with him. The Indians pitching coaches at the time Jason Bere and Greg Hibbard took one look and said, "I think we got something here."
The first two years Wright struggled, going 6-11, as he tried to master the pitch. But in the 2011-12 seasons, Wright started to get a feel for it as he went 14-15 with an ERA under 4.00. The Red Sox noticed and took a chance on the older prospect with the funny pitch. On July 31 Boston traded first baseman Lars Anderson to Cleveland for Wright.
The Red Sox had found success with a previous reclamation project who ended up with 200 big league wins, Tim Wakefield. Wakefield, now a special assignment instructor, broadcaster and honorary chairman of the Red Sox Foundation, was brought in to work with Wright over the winter and into spring training.
“I’m pulling for him, of course, because I’ve walked a mile in his shoes." Wakefield told the Boston Herald. “When I was first coming up, I had pitching coaches who told me, ‘I don’t know what to tell you.’ It’s refreshing to be able to contribute to the legacy of the pitch by helping him out.”
It may have been a long road, but there was Wright, in a Red Sox uniform, tossing the knuckleball Thursday to his first major league win.
Wright told Nick Carfardo of the Boston Globe at spring training, “I feel that I’ve been given a second chance to be a major leaguer and this is my avenue. I never thought it would be the way I got to the big leagues. It’s funny where life takes you, but it took me to this and I’m good with it.”
After Thursday's game, Red Sox closer Koji Uehara presented Wright with the game ball.
"It's awesome," Wright said. "I'll probably give it to my parents."