PAWTUCKET, R.I. – Steven Wright is a dinosaur.
That’s another way of saying the Pawtucket Red Sox right-hander is the last of a dying breed, namely pitchers who rely on a knuckleball as their primary pitch. In fact, Toronto’s R. A. Dickey is the only active Major League pitcher who still features a knuckleball.
Ironically, if Wright is able to master command of this unconventional pitch, it may be his ticket to the Boston Red Sox who obtained him last July from Cleveland in a trade for Lars Anderson.
“Actually, I started throwing it when I was seven or eight years old,” Wright said before his Monday start at McCoy Stadium against Indianapolis. “My old pitching coach, Frank Pastore (who pitched for the Reds), threw one back to me during a lesson and I got intrigued with the pitch.” said Wright. “I really didn’t have a swing-and-miss pitch. One day (in2010), I was messing around with it on the bullpen mound when I was with Akron and we were in New Hampshire. Greg Hibbert, our pitching coach, saw me doing it and he brought it to the Indians attention about maybe using it as an out pitch. They told me to throw it as an out pitch and that’s how I started throwing it in games.”
“I had a good rest of the year,” Wright continued. “The next year, they brought in (John) Candiotti (who had a 16-year career primarily as a knuckleballer). He was the one who recommended I throw it as a full-time pitch.”
Wright will carry a 2-1 record and a 3.16 ERA into his start against Indianapolis. But he’s already had a taste of pitching in the Major Leagues because he pitched for Boston on April 23 against Oakland. Despite the fact he allowed five runs in 3 2/3 innings, Wright was anything but discouraged about his performance.
“I realized it will play up,” he said. “My stuff can play at that level because I’ve shown I can get outs with it. But I’ve also shown that if I don’t make a good pitch it will get hit. It definitely was a good learning curve. I got a little taste of it and I know it will play. It’s just like here. You make a bad pitch and they’re going to hit it. You make a good pitch and they still might hit it, but maybe not as hard. Up there, they’re disciplined enough to stay within their approach. That’s the difference. They make you throw it for strikes.”
Not surprisingly, Wright benefitted from conversations with Tim Wakefield who retired after the 2011 season ranked second for most strikeouts (2,046) ever by a Boston pitcher.
“I talked with him right before I was traded,” Wright said. “Then, I worked with him in spring training. He understands the knuckleball and he understands pitching. That’s what makes him more beneficial to me because he was successful throwing a knuckleball but he understands what it takes to be a pitcher. With that and with him knowing the knuckleball, he’s not trying to make me become him. He’s helping me become the best knuckleball pitcher I can be. But he’s not trying to make me replicate him. That’s what’s helped me out a lot.”
PawSox pitching coach Rich Sauveur has few complaints about the movement of Wright’s knuckleball. But the sooner he can improve command of that pitch, the better his chances will be of getting another shot with Boston.
“He’s got a very good knuckleball with a lot of movement,” Sauveur said. “Last year, he had better command of it. This year, it’s had a ton of movement but the command hasn’t been there. You’re always looking for a dancing knuckleball. It’s been tough to catch this year so we know the movement’s there. But he needs to command better and that’s what we’re working on now.”
The Red Sox already have shown they have confidence in Wright because earlier this year they placed him on their 40-man roster.
“That was a no-brainer,” Sauveur said. “If they put him on the 40-man, that means they saw something. Just because he’s had a few hiccups here doesn’t mean he can’t pitch in the big leagues. I believe in him. He’s got a very good knuckleball. It’s just a matter of commanding it better.”