As Red Sox Advance, Sox Manager Cora Ponders How Best to Use Knuckleball Pitcher Steven Wright

“One of the goals for Red Sox manager Alex Cora this coming week will be to bring Steven Wright out of the bullpen with runners on base to see how he responds,” reports Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe. Cora (pictured with Wright) wants to try it before October.

The knuckleballer has thrown 10 scoreless innings in seven relief appearances this month and for the season has a 1.38 earned run average in 13 games as a reliever. He has come in to start the inning every time.

There were two reasons for that. One was to give Wright ample time to warm up given the varying condition of his surgically repaired left knee.

Cora also was adhering to the idea that it’s not wise to bring a knuckleballer in with runners on base because of the increased likelihood of a wild pitch or passed ball….

“I’ll pitch in whatever situation they want,” Wright said. “It’s the same thing no matter what, I have to pound the strike zone. It’s the same job.”

It has become evident the Sox view Wright as being a valuable reliever in the postseason and intend to use him in high-leverage situations.

Cora said he trusts all three of his catchers with the knuckleball.

The only question seems to be how best to deploy Wright’s proven ability to confound batters. In the last few seasons, only injury or relapse has caused the knuckleballer to falter, and it looks like the Sox are being careful not to over-stress him.

Other sports writers are also ratifying Cora’s judgment. Says the Globe’s Nick Cafaro:

I don’t know if it’s prudent or practical to use Steven Wright late in a game or with runners on base, but I do know this—he has been a game-changer for the Red Sox.

As the Sox clinched the division title with an 11-6 win over the Yankees Thursday night [September 20], Wright pitched three innings of shutout ball and held the Yankees in check after they’d taken a 6-4 lead off Heath Hembree following Giancarlo Stanton’s grand slam. If it wasn’t for Wright, the Sox might have been swept because the Yankees might have scored all night. Instead, he stopped the Yankees’ momentum with his tricky knuckleball.

Wright has been the rock of the Red Sox’s shaky bullpen. He has been the sure thing for quite a while now. If the Sox could bridge their starters with Wright and then Craig Kimbrel, that would be the dream scenario. But the postseason isn’t always a dream and it can be a nightmare if the bullpen isn’t right.

So Wright and his knuckleball are the real deal, and the only question is when to send him out. Meanwhile, MassLive’s Christopher Smith wants to know whether Steven Wright can be “Boston Red Sox’s 2018 Super Reliever.”

The Red Sox clinched the AL East title Thursday with an 11-6 win over the Yankees. This game had a postseason-like feel…thanks to Steven Wright, the Super Reliever?

Bad things happened in the game.

But then the good happened: Wright pitched a scoreless fifth, sixth and seventh inning. The Red Sox scored three times in the seventh to take the lead. They added three more runs in the eighth.

Can Wright bridge the gap from the starter to eighth-inning man Matt Barnes and closer Craig Kimbrel this postseason?

That’s the definition of a Super Reliever….

Wright always has had a tough mentality on the mound. Nothing bothers him. That’s ideal late in games—or pitching three innings to bridge the gap between the starter and Kimbrel.

We like Wright’s ability to focus too.

Chris Mason of the Eagle Tribune adds to the chorus:

Steven Wright may have the most unpredictable pitch in the bullpen, but since returning earlier this month, it’s yielded the most predictable results.

The knuckleballer’s seven September relief appearances have been scoreless—Wright has tossed 10 innings—and he shined at Yankee Stadium in one of the biggest spots of the season.

Wright was the unsung hero as the Red Sox clinched the AL East, tossing three innings of one-hit relief to stabilize a game that was spiraling out of control.

“You can see it with him: The confidence is building up,” Alex Cora said. “He looks a lot better. He looked great for three, so we’ll keep working on it.”

Unsung? Maybe not.

* * *

How did Steven Wright end up pitching a knuckleball?

Wright first saw the pitch when he was nine years old. Former Cincinnati Reds pitcher Frank Pastore showed it to him.

Pastore became a close friend and mentor, and they worked together while Wright was in college and the minors.

And in 2010, the knuckleball became Wright’s last shot at a Major League career.

“I had nothing else to do, to be honest with you,” he says. “It just got to the point where it was kind of a last resort.”

Wright tells of his discovery of the knuckleball in an essay for The Players’ Tribune a few years ago:

I was nine years old the first time I saw a knuckleball. My parents had signed me up for pitching lessons, and my coach was former Reds pitcher Frank Pastore. I was throwing with him one day, working on my mechanics, and one time when he threw the ball back to me, it just looked … funny. It was something I’d never seen before. The ball didn’t spin. It just floated toward me and fluttered around a little before it landed awkwardly in my glove.

I was instantly intrigued.

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