Meet Knuckleballer, Steven Wright
Saturday night in Rochester will mark the first time since September 6, 2009 that a knuckleballer will start for the Pawtucket Red Sox. Former International League Most Valuable Pitcher Charlie Zink who, unfortunately, went on to pitch in less than five carrer Major League innings, was the last knuckleballer in Pawtucket.
Steven Wright is the latest and makes his PawSox debut Saturday night in Rochester after being traded at the deadlined for former Pawtucket first baseman, Lars Anderson. Wright, a longtime Indians’ farmhand, was at first saddened by the trade.
“I was depressed a little bit,” said Wright from the PawSox dugout. “You meet so many friends and fans, being in [Double-A] Akron as long as I have, but it’s definitely exciting for me.”
The knuckleball is something that Wright has been fine-tuning, believe it or not, since childhood.
“I started when I was nine-years-old. [Former Reds' pitcher] Frank Pastore threw one back to me when I was taking lessons from him as a kid and I just got fascinated with it.”
It’s been a long journey for Wright since his time playing catch with Pastore. A former second-round draft pick by Cleveland out of the University of Hawaii, Wright spent last off-season playing winter ball in Panama and mastering his mechanics.
“I started throwing fastballs again and found that I have to throw a knuckleball off my fastball mechanics. That’s where I learned how to find the right effort level to throw a harder knuckleball yet be able to kill the spin of the ball.”
Wright is excited to join the PawSox not just because of the opportunity, but also because of the history the knuckleball has in Boston.
“Growing up, it seemed like every time I watched a baseball game, it was the Red Sox and [Tim] Wakefield was pitching. I wasn’t a die hard Red Sox fan, but I was always rooting for them and liked the way that they played.”
Although Wakefield was someone Wright followed closely, he learned last year that trying to pitch exactly like the 200-game winner would not work.
“Last year, when I struggled, I was trying to be too much like a ‘Wakefield’ who threw it really slow. For me, it’s much easier to repeat the knuckleball when I throw it harder, between 77 and 80 mph.”
Wright, who is a former college teammate with PawSox utility-man Jon Hee, was a Double-A mid-season Eastern League All-Star where he went 9-6 with a 2.49 ERA. At the time of his promotion, he was among the league leaders in ERA and strikeouts (101), while pacing E.L. pitchers with a .207 opposing average.
At 27-years-old, Wright is not young by baseball standards. However, when 2012 knuckle-balling All-Star R.A. Dickey was 27-year-old, he was pitching in Triple-A Oklahoma City. In fact, Dickey was pitching in Triple-A until he was 35-years-old.
Just goes to show that despite all the scouting, reports, and analysis, you never really know what can happen in this game. Especially if you have an arm made of rubber.