Pitching Comeback Is a Long-term Proposition for Knuckleballer Steven Wright

The Boston Red Sox faced the Seattle Mariners again last Friday, and won, but not until Sox knuckleball pitcher Steven Wright had given up ten earned runs over a little more than three innings. The score was 14-10, after the Sox had lagged 5-10.

Knuckleballers have on days as well as off days. If Wright is discouraged, we don’t expect he will be for long; certainly, he has bounced back from much more trying circumstances. As he recently told Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham (“Red Sox pitcher Steven Wright says ‘dark time’ is behind him”):

“There were definitely times in the rehab where I wondered if I could do it. It was just miserable. Every step you take was a constant reminder that you’re hurt.

“But after working with our trainers and the physical therapists in New York, I learned it was part of the process. I just had to keep going. It still feels different. I think it’s always going to feel different. I had a pretty significant knee injury.”…

Wright could be line to earn $2 million or more in 2019 if he continues to pitch well, a considerable raise.

“That’s exterior stuff….

“People say, ‘You want to have a good season and set yourself up.’ But I always want to have a good season. You still want to perform for the team. You can’t sit there and play GM and worry about your contract status or what you should be making compared to somebody else.”

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Steven Wright’s plan of attack “isn’t as simple as you would think,” claims a headline that seems to slight the inherent non-simplicity of the knuckleball. The point, though, is that Wright throws the pitch with more than one velocity. He has three ranges of mph in his repertoire, 60s-ish, 70s-ish, 80s-ish. He’s trying to kill timing.

“I want to be able to have three different speeds because these hitters, they’re so good, but hitting is all timing. For a pitcher it’s all about trying to disrupt that timing and for a knuckleball there’s only so much I can do as far as movement, because I don’t control that.

“But if I can control the speed, my pitch plays up a little more…. Then I just trust the movement.”

Wright throws his standard knuckleball that clocks in between 73 and 75 MPH. Then there’s the hard knuckler, that’s been clocked as high as 81 MPH this season, and the slow one that’s dipped all the way to 63 MPH, according to Brooks baseball.

The goal is to make an unpredictable pitch even less predictable.

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What’s next for Wright? Ethen Roy has argued, in a June 19 piece at Yawkey Way Report, that “Steven Wright Needs a Permanent Rotation Spot,” citing Wright’s almost impeccable performance up to that point during the several weeks of his return to play in 2018. The same argument could not be made after Friday’s game. But the weaker performance of one game isn’t a definitive objection either. We’ll see how things go, but we do think Wright will do fine as either starter or reliever.

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