FORT MYERS, Fla. -- As Steven Wright walked out of JetBlue Park on Tuesday, he could only hope that the inscription on his cooler will be the story of his season.
"Game ready" is what it said. And wouldn't Wright love to spend 2019 at the ready whenever the Red Sox need him?
This wasn't the case -- or anything close to it -- the last two seasons.
Wright badly injured his left knee the first week of May 2017 and underwent major surgery in which cartilage had to be replaced. That knocked him out the rest of the year.
The knuckleballer came to camp last year hoping he was over the injury, and he was at times. But every time Wright got on a roll, his knee ached.
In 2018, Wright managed to appear in 20 games, four of them starts. Making it so tantalizing was how well he did pitch (2.68 ERA) when he was able to. For the third consecutive October, Wright was not healthy enough to be active in the postseason.
Twenty months from that surgery, the 34-year-old Wright finally has the confidence that he can be "game ready" more often than not. Shortly after the World Series ended, Wright also had an arthroscopic procedure on his left knee.
"I feel like I'm in a way better spot than I was at this point last year. At this point last year, I was only like seven or eight months out," Wright said. "And the scope, even though they had to do a lot of cleaning out, I had a lot of scar tissue. That was kind of matting everything down, so my knee just wasn't functioning the way it should, and now it is. So now it's just making sure that it stays functioning as I build the strength."
With his versatility -- Wright can start or relieve -- the righty figures to be a big strength of the pitching staff if he can stay healthy.
Boston's current rotation is loaded, which would make Wright well set up to help a bullpen that's very much in flux at the moment.
What role does he prefer?
"Pitch," Wright said. "I mean, it hasn't changed. It hasn't changed since I became a knuckleballer. I knew from the history of the knuckleball, be ready to pitch -- start, reliever. It's just one of those things, I just need to prepare to pitch. Regardless of what the role is, I need to be able to go out there and just throw one pitch."
That one pitch has sent many hitters muttering back to the dugout in frustration.
It's just that the discomfort in his knee has made Wright do more muttering than he wanted to the last two years.
"It's a game where it's tough on your body, but then when you've got a flat tire going out there trying to pitch, it makes it a little bit tougher," Wright said. "It's trying to change the mentality of how you approach things, both from a physical standpoint in the weight room, training, conditioning, and that's what's tough.
"The days you feel good, you've still got to be aware that just because it feels good now doesn't mean it's going to feel good in six or seven months. That has just been a lot of trial and error. We learned a lot last year, not only from myself, but from [Dustin] Pedroia and his challenges that he's had. I'm looking forward to seeing him, seeing how he's doing right now, and just bouncing things off of each other and just trying to figure out what the process is going to be for the rest of our careers."
The Red Sox will soon give a clear outline of what Wright's progression will be like in Spring Training. The righty will take that program in stride with the clear goal of being able to pitch for his team when it needs him the most.
"I started throwing last week. It's feeling good. I'm trying not to overdo it too soon. It's a long year," Wright said. "I just want to make sure that when I do come back, I don't have to worry about going off and on the [injured list]. I want to make sure that I'm good to go."