To given rotation breather, knuckleballer will take mound against Astros
BOSTON -- The transition was instant, but success was not.
Steven Wright struggled as a knuckleballer in 2011, the first year that the former second-round Draft pick ditched his 90-mph fastball to join the odd company of very few others who made a career off a single pitch. One year later, he was zipping knucklers past Minor League batters who might as well have put on a blindfold.
Now on a hot streak, Wright will make his first Major League start on Tuesday as the Red Sox take on the Astros in Houston.
"Just trying to give guys an extra day of rest this time through [the rotation]," said manager John Farrell, who noted that Brandon Workman will continue his transition to the bullpen after making three strong spot starts.
Also, Wright's knuckler has been nearly unhittable lately.
After putting on a magic show against the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs on July 28, throwing a four-hit shutout against the team with the second-best average in the International League, Wright was added to the Red Sox's roster and tossed three scoreless innings out of relief on Thursday, earning his second Major League win after the Sox completed a six-run comeback in the ninth inning.
Since the beginning of 2012, Wright has posted a 3.12 ERA in 248 Minor League innings.
Over his last 12 innings between Triple-A Pawtucket and the Red Sox, Wright hasn't allowed a run while giving up just six hits.
"He has a really good knuckleball," said Tim Wakefield, an expert on the pitch he mastered over a 19-year Major League career. Wakefield now works as a special assignment instructor with the team and tutors Wright about once a week.
"You just learn what works for you," Wakefield said. "I think the biggest thing to being successful is being consistent, fixing what's wrong quickly and making the adjustments on the fly. There were times for me where it may have taken a couple starts.
"It's like a golf swing. You see guys on Tour, Tiger [Woods] this week is unbelievable. Next week he may be good, he may be bad. It's just about minor adjustments mechanically, and the psychological side of things, having the confidence in yourself to do it."
The key that's unlocked success for Wright is confidence. Dropping a 77-mph pitch over the strike zone to Major League hitters can have a tendency of not ending well.
"A lot of it I think is the mindset," Wright said. "A lot of guys can do it, but it's the mindset of basically, [the hitters] know what's coming.
"For me, I was always trying to trick guys with setup pitches. And now it's like, 'Here it is.' It's a tough mental thing to get over. … There are going to be games you go up there and get hit around. You have to say, 'Hey, you know what? Tomorrow you have to get the ball and go at it again.'"
Wright, who was traded from the Indians for Lars Anderson at the 2012 non-waiver Trade Deadline, works frequently with Wakefield, speaks occasionally with R.A. Dickey of the Blue Jays and swaps notes with fellow Minor League knuckleballers Charlie Haeger, Eddie Gamboa and Zach Clark.
The fraternity is tight-knit, with a membership that appears to be dwindling.
"It's so rare, you know? You just don't see it," Wright said.
"I think, obviously they're not going to be drafted as a knuckleballer. And I think a lot of teams aren't willing to let guys go that route. I lucked out. Dickey lucked out. Wakefield. We all had somebody with a lot of pull in that organization vouch for us to let us pursue that, and it ended up working out for us. I think teams are getting a little more [lenient] to let guys do it because of what R.A. did last year. But it's not easy to do."