Easing back into the game after several weeks on the disabled list, knuckleballer Steven Wright pitched a scoreless inning in an 8-2 Red Sox victory over the Atlanta Braves on Labor Day. Alex Speier reports that Wright
threw an impressive number of strikes, with 17 of his 23 pitches (74 percent) either landing in the strike zone or eliciting a swing. Though he hit a batter and allowed a hit (a soft single to right by switch hitter Yohan Camargo, who elected to bat righthanded), Wright elicited bad contact, getting three ground balls and a flare to shallow right. His return to the mound appeared to be an unwelcome sight to Atlanta’s hitters.
“They don’t like that. You could see Freddie [Freeman, of the Braves] looking at me, like, ‘What are you doing?’ ” chuckled Red Sox manager Alex Cora. “It is uncomfortable.”…
Wright could represent a fascinating wild card—not only for what he can do, but also potentially for a halo effect that lingers. There is at least a chance that Wright—as a contrast to a conventional starting pitcher in front of him and a hard-throwing option behind him—can introduce a disruptive element into the middle innings.
Speier argues that despite the small sample of Wright’s pitching so far in 2018—52 plate appearances—the knuckleball pitcher’s performance is consistent enough to suggest that he could “enter in the middle innings with a chance to dominate one time through the order before handing the baton to a late-innings group. And the impact might not be limited to his own innings.”
It’s all about the debated “hangover effect” of the knuckleball. Many argue that, for batters, the knuckleball is hard to gear up for and hard to gear down from. Sox Manager Alex Cora is a bit skeptical about this disruptive influence (“He’s not going to face the same guys anyway”), whereas Wright thinks that the greater disruption is caused “maybe not so much [from my] coming in behind somebody but somebody else coming in behind me.” Speier looks at the evidence in 2018 for and against a hangover effect.
In any case, everyone is confident that Wright will excel so long as his knee doesn’t conk out on him. The Sox hope to avoid any relapse as they increase his innings.
* * *
At MassLive, Christopher Smith says that Cora should consider using Wright as a late-inning pitcher for the late season.
Steven Wright might be the answer to the Red Sox’s late-inning bullpen woes….
But manager Alex Cora should at least try him out in the seventh and eighth innings. And it seems like Cora might.
With just 20 regular season games remaining, Cora must figure out soon who he can trust to pitch those two innings leading to closer Craig Kimbrel during the postseason….
Wright deserves a chance in the late innings. Sure, it might seem crazy putting a knuckleballer into a game late. But all three catchers have done an excellent job receiving his unpredictable pitch.
The righty hasn’t thrown a wild pitch in 42 innings this year. Red Sox catchers have allowed five passed balls when he has pitched. Christian Vazquez has four of them, Sandy Leon one and Blake Swihart none.
Wright consistently has pitched well this season no matter his role. He has a 2.00 ERA (18 innings, 4 earned runs) and 1.22 WHIP in eight relief appearances.
* * *
Sometimes you just have to get away from it all and watch knuckleballs. If you’d like to a see a lot of swinging and missing on knuckleball pitches, Sporting Videos has spliced together a collection at YouTube.