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Wright takes 'big step' by throwing BP

MLB.com @IanMBrowne

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Red Sox knuckleballer Steven Wright took what manager Alex Cora termed "a big step" on Wednesday morning, throwing two innings of batting practice.

It was the first time Wright has thrown to hitters since undergoing a cartilage restoration procedure on his left knee on May 8, 2017.

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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Red Sox knuckleballer Steven Wright took what manager Alex Cora termed "a big step" on Wednesday morning, throwing two innings of batting practice.

It was the first time Wright has thrown to hitters since undergoing a cartilage restoration procedure on his left knee on May 8, 2017.

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"Felt pretty good," said Wright. "It's nice to finally get out there and face some hitters. I wasn't worried at all about how the knuckleball was dancing. I was more worried about hitters and trying to throw it with a little bit more intensity than I have, because this was the first time I've faced hitters in about a year."

In the coming days, Wright will huddle with Cora and pitching coach Dana LeVangie to determine the next step.

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"I think if he's good enough today and let's see how he reacts tomorrow, then we make a decision if we pitch him on the big field already and start building up or if we keep him in the back fields," Cora said.

For Wright, the mental hurdles are as big these days as the physical ones.

"Every day I go out there and get off the mound, it's just stressing it more and more," Wright said. "That's what I've got to do. That's why I've got to do stuff like live BP. It's putting more stress on it than I have since before the injury. I feel pretty good where it's at right now. It's just a matter of getting that stamina back, and a lot of it is mental, just getting over the fact that I can do it. Before I had the surgery, every time I would land, it would hurt. Now, it's just getting that mental lapse over the fact that my knee is good."

Wright isn't the only starting pitcher coming back from an injury. Eduardo Rodriguez (right knee surgery) will likely open the season on the disabled list, and he may be joined by Drew Pomeranz (mild flexor strain in his left forearm). All three pitchers aren't expected to miss much time.

"I don't want to push somebody to do something because they feel the pressure to be ready the first week, or the first 15 days of the season," Cora said. "We want these guys to be healthy throughout the season, the playoffs and all the way until the end. We just have to make sure we take it day by day with them."

Rodriguez threw two innings of BP on Monday and will repeat the exercise Thursday. Pomeranz, who suffered his injury 17 pitches into his first Grapefruit League outing on March 2, will throw a bullpen session on Friday. If that goes well, he could progress to batting practice by the end of the week.

Left-hander Brian Johnson and right-hander Hector Velazquez are currently projected to hold down the fourth and fifth spots, respectively, for the first turn through the rotation if Rodriguez, Pomeranz and Wright aren't back for the start of the season.

Kimbrel on track despite absence
Though closer Craig Kimbrel remains in Boston with his daughter Lydia Joy, who is recovering from heart surgery, Cora fully expects the righty will be ready for Opening Day.

Kimbrel is finding ways to get his work done in Boston.

"He's throwing live BP tomorrow somewhere up there," said Cora. "I had a conversation with him, five or six days ago. It was a 30-minute conversation, five as a manager, 25 as a friend. Like I told him, the most important thing is to take care of what you need to take care of, and it's Lydia right now. That's the most important thing."

Lydia, according to Cora, is "doing better." The baseball stuff will take care of itself.

"We're comfortable with where he's at," said Cora. "He's doing his work. He's on schedule."

Poyner on point
Lefty reliever Bobby Poyner, who wasn't on the radar for a roster spot when camp opened, has clearly pitched his way into the mix.

Cora set it up Wednesday so Poyner would face some quality Twins hitters.

The lefty handled the test well. After striking out Jason Castro, Poyner allowed a seeing-eye single to leadoff man Brian Dozier. Poyner then made the pitch he needed, and Joe Mauer rolled it over for an inning-ending double play.

Poyner, who is a non-roster invitee, was taken in the 14th round of the 2015 Draft. He was lights out after being promoted to Double-A Portland last season, posting a 0.94 ERA in 27 outings.

"The only thing I knew [about him before Spring Training] was he had a 0.92 WHIP last year and he went to Florida," said Cora. "That's it. Talking to [the Minor League staff], they told me the kid can pitch. There's something about him on the mound. He's very calm. He understands who he is. He doesn't try to be somebody else, and he gets people out."

Poyner is in competition with Roenis Elias and Robby Scott as lefties trying to earn a spot in Boston's bullpen.

In seven Grapefruit League outings, Poyner has a 1.29 ERA while walking one and striking out four.

Up next
Left-hander David Price will make his Grapefruit League debut in Thursday's 1:05 p.m. ET home game against the Blue Jays. His last start was pushed indoors due to weather concerns. Joe Kelly, Carson Smith and Roenis Elias are all expected to get action out of the bullpen. Fans can catch all the action live on MLB.TV.

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.

Boston Red Sox, Steven Wright