The Pirates added a knuckleballer to their pitching depth on Sunday, signing 36-year-old right-hander Steven Wright to a Minor League deal with an invitation to big league camp
Wright pitched seven seasons with the Red Sox from 2013-19, compiling a 3.86 ERA in 347 2/3 innings with 271 strikeouts in 81 appearances. He did not pitch in the '20 season. Wright’s tenure in Boston began during Pirates general manager Ben Cherington’s time as the GM of the Red Sox.
Wright, an All-Star in the 2016 season, fits the bill of an either-or pitcher to bolster the Pirates’ depth, as he’s made 44 starts and 37 relief outings. In his solid ‘16 season he pitched four complete games. The Bucs are looking for ways to fill enough quality innings for a 162-game season following the shortened ‘20 season, and Cherington has made it a point to pick up versatile players with starting capabilities.
“We like the idea of having six starters on the team,” Cherington said earlier this spring. “Whether we're actually using all six as starters or are using them to come in behind guys and provide length or back and forth, we’ll see how that plays out. We just wanted to add as much starting depth as we could after the offseason moves.”
The righty is also a unique arm in the Majors, as he throws a knuckleball in an age with fewer and fewer knuckleballs being employed. Wright transitioned to throwing a knuckleball vs. employing a conventional arsenal in 2011, one year before he was acquired by Boston from Cleveland, which selected him in the second round of the 2006 MLB Draft.
Wright said he nearly considered quitting baseball after dealing with recurring knee problems between 2017-19, which led to inconsistency on the mound and an inability to stay on the field. Then he underwent Tommy John surgery after he was released by the Red Sox in '19.
“Every time I'd finally start to get good, it was my knee,” Wright said. “The Tommy John [surgery] has been a blessing in disguise because it allowed my body to heal.”
Issues off the field also kept Wright away from the mound recently, as he served a 15-game suspension for violating MLB’s domestic violence policy in 2018, then carried out an 80-game suspension for violating MLB’s Joint Drug Treatment and Prevention Program in ‘19.
Wright said through therapy and with the help of friends and family, he was able to unpack emotions he’d kept bottled up. He commended the Pirates for doing a thorough job vetting him and letting him tell his story.
“It's a dark past,” Wright said. “It's something I'm definitely sorry for, not only for myself, but the game of baseball and my family. But we've moved past that.”
Wright wasn’t the only Red Sox-Pirates connection as the teams faced each other on Sunday.
Pirates third-base coach Joey Cora was able to spend time with his brother Alex, the manager of the Red Sox, before the game. It was a reunion a long time coming, as Alex confirmed in his pregame presser that it had been since Jan. 7, 2020, that the two had seen each other in person.
Despite Alex saying “we better win this game” for bragging rights in his pregame presser, the elder Cora's team came out on top, 9-4.
• Todd Frazier was removed from Sunday’s lineup against the Red Sox with lower back stiffness. He was replaced by Will Craig at first base. Manager Derek Shelton said Frazier, who is day to day, called the team that morning and said he woke up feeling the discomfort.
“When he called and said that, we just scratched him,” Shelton said. “Driving down here two hours, getting him in a game, it was probably better off just having him stay back.”
• Shelton said the club hopes to have a further update on Steven Brault, who is set back with left arm tightness (latissimus muscle), in the “next 24-48 hours.” The left-hander, who is a candidate to be the Opening Day starter if his injury doesn’t sideline him for too long, has allowed six runs (five earned) in eight innings with five walks during Spring Training.
• Wil Crowe avoided a potential liner off his leg with a nifty move in the fourth inning of his 3 2/3-innings start on Sunday. Hunter Renfroe hit a grounder with pace up the middle, and Crowe was able to direct his foot up to nick the ball with his cleats. Instead of a contusion or a stinger, Crowe got a good laugh out of it.
“Shelty came out and asked me where I was from,” Crowe said, “and I told him Tennessee. He said, ‘There’s not a lot of kick saves there.’”
The Pirates will get a closer look at some new additions when they return to LECOM Park on Monday to face the Orioles. Mitch Keller will make his fourth start of the spring, and among those following him in the pitching order will be Cahill, Underwood Jr. and Luis Oviedo. Cahill was signed to a one-year deal last week, shortly after the club traded for Underwood, and Oviedo was a Rule 5 Draft acquisition this offseason. Joining those three in relief Monday will be Chris Stratton and MLB Pipeline’s No. 52 overall prospect Quinn Priester, who will make his second spring appearance.
The game will be live on AT&T Sportsnet and MLB.TV, with first pitch scheduled for 1:05 p.m. ET.