Knuckleball Pitcher Steven Wright Wows in First Starts of Season, May Save Sox

As we noted in an update to our last post, Steven Wright’s knuckleball was well in hand on June 5 (at least to the extent that a knuckleball can ever be well in hand) when he helped the Boston Red Sox achieve a 6-0 victory over the Detroit Tigers. He pitched for seven innings. Lauren Campbell reported for NESN:

Of Wright’s 96 pitches, 57 of those were strikes, including nine swing-and-misses. Red Sox manager Alex Cora had nothing but high praise for his pitcher, despite a shaky first inning. Wright opened the game by walking Leonys Martin and then surrendering a ringing double to Nick Castellanos. Luckily for Wright, however, Martin was thrown out at home plate and he was able to escape the inning unscathed.

“It didn’t start the way he wanted to [but] he settled down [and] he was outstanding,” Cora said after the victory, as seen on NESN’s Red Sox postgame coverage. “He gives you quality innings, we’ve seen it since he got back from the DL.”

Wright said after the game that he hasn’t been healthy on the mound since August 2016 and felt “excited, antsy and nervous” going into Tuesday’s start. He seemed to keep his emotions in check and was able to eat up innings, as he’s done all season.

“I was trying to go as deep as I was able to go,” Wright said. “Going seven was huge, especially for our bullpen.”

The June 11 game versus the Baltimore Orioles was also a win for the Sox, though a tougher one. Wright pitched into the seventh inning. According to Boston Globe’s David Ginsburg (“Red Sox beat punchless Orioles 2-0 in 12 innings”):

Steven Wright and five relievers combined for Boston’s fifth shutout of the year….

Wright was going up against an offense that ranked last in the AL in runs and was missing ailing slugger Manny Machado. The knuckleballer allowed four hits over 6 2/3 innings. In the seventh, after Baltimore used two walks and an infield hit to load the bases with two outs, Joe Kelly entered and struck out Adam Jones with a 97 mph fastball.

“With Monday’s performance,” NESN’s Dakota Randall notes, “Wright now has thrown 22 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings, lowering his ERA to 1.21 in the process. Overall, he’s made six straight scoreless appearances, four of which have come out of the bullpen.”

The impressive track record means that “Knuckleballer Wright just may save Red Sox,” according to ESPN’s David Schoenfield. (The piece seems to have two titles, the more understated one being “Steven Wright and his knuckleball could fill key role for Red Sox.”)

In any case, Wright’s emergence

could be a big factor in the AL East battle royale with the Yankees. With Drew Pomeranz on the disabled list, Wright has started twice and allowed no runs in 13 2/3 innings against the Detroit Tigers and Orioles. This isn’t necessarily a fluke for the knuckleballer; remember, he was an All-Star in 2016 before injuring his shoulder in August while pinch running.

Fine, but we’d like to nit-pick the formulation that Wright’s performance is “not necessarily a fluke,” which suggests there’s at least some reason to suppose it may be a fluke. Perhaps the trajectory of a well-lobbed knuckleball is always aptly described as a fluke. But Wright’s steadfastness of performance over the last several years despite various setbacks is no fluke. It’s focus.

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