“FENWAY'S BEST PLAYERS”
Boston Red Sox pitcher Steven Wright hopes that he is next on the list of those who have perfected the pitch. Like most before him, Wrights path to the majors did not start with the knuckler.
In 2003, Wright was finishing up his senior year at Valley View High School in California when he was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 26th round. Deciding he was not quite ready to begin his journey into the professional game, Wright enrolled and began playing baseball at the University of Hawaii. While playing baseball on the island, Wright developed and learned a lot about the rigors of baseball. The Hawaii baseball team had to travel to the mainland in order to play many of its games preparing Wright for long bus trips and life as a minor leaguer. After three successful years playing for the Rainbows, including a junior season in which he recorded an 11-2 record with a 2.30 ERA. Wright was named a second team All-American paving the way for him to be on the radar for many teams in the fast approaching major league draft. The University of Hawaii product did not have to wait long to hear his name called once the 2006 draft got underway. The Cleveland Indians selected Wright with their second round selection. Unfortunately for Wright his professional debut was delayed until the start of the 2007 season due to coming down with a case of mononucleosis.
Wright split his first season of professional baseball between two Indian affiliates. Starting out in Lake County, Wright made 14 starts and posted a 4-7 record. At the mid-season mark the Indians promoted Wright to their A+ affiliate in the Carolina League. Making an additional 13 starts, Wright struggled at his first taste of stiffer competition.
Like his first professional season Wright’s sophomore campaign in 2008, would be split between Indian affiliates once again, a trend for Wright that has lasted his entire career. Starting back out in Kingston, Wright was more prepared for the competition he would face this time around. In 14 starts on the hill he compiled a 2-3 record with a low 2.99 ERA. Once again at the seasons halfway point the Indians promoted the right hander up a level, this time to their AA team in Akron. Facing more experienced hitters for the first time Wright put up respectable numbers in his 14 additional starts.
In 2009 the Indians opted to convert Wright into a relief pitcher. Though the territory was new to him, he transitioned with great success. In 36 appearances back with Akron, he posted a perfect 10-0 record and an impressive 2.32 ERA.
The Indians started Wright out as a member of the 2010 Columbus Clippers bullpen. Facing even tougher competition Wright got off to a slow start. This led the Indians to demote him back to a familiar place, Akron. During this time Wright began throwing a pitch he learned how to throw at a young age, the knuckleball.
During spring training in 2011 the Indians sent long time major league knuckleball pitcher Tom Candiotti to watch Wright throw the knuckleball and determine if Wright had the right stuff to throw the pitch full-time. Candiotti was impressed and Wright began his transition into a full-time knuckleball pitcher. Under the tutelage of Candiotti and another long time knuckleball pitcher Charlie Hough, Wright began to perfect his craft. The Indians converted Wright back to a starter and let him work on his pitch facing various levels of competition all season long. In four levels of minor league baseball, Wright started 20 games. He posted a 4-8 record for the season to go along with a 4.58 ERA. The 2011 season was a success for Wright largely due to the fact that he gained the confidence in throwing the knuckleball for strikes on a regular basis.
Wright began 2012 back in a familiar place with the Akron Aeros. Starting his second year as a full-time knuckleball pitcher he continued to perfect the pitch. In 20 starts with the Aeros, Wright posted some of the best numbers of his career to a tune of an ERA of 2.49. Wright’s rise to the majors was back on track and other teams noticed his growing success with the knuckleball.
At the trade deadline the Boston Red Sox traded first baseman Lars Anderson to the Indians in exchange for Wright. Wright made one start with Portland and picked up the victory before the Red Sox promoted him to AAA Pawtucket. In four starts with the Paw Sox, Wright posted some impressive numbers. In November the Red Sox added Wright to the 40-man roster largely based on his success they witnessed in the Dominican Winter League.
On August 6, 2013, in Wright’s first major league game, his knuckleball caused catcher Ryan Lavarnway to tie a major league record with four passed balls in one inning.
Wright began the 2014 season with the Pawtucket Red Sox, going 5-3 with a 2.76 ERA before being recalled to Boston on August 17, 2014. In six major league games with the Red Sox, Wright made one start, going 0-1 with a 2.57 ERA in 21 innings pitched.
In 2015, Wright started with the Red Sox, but was optioned to Pawtucket to make room for the returning Joe Kelly. Wright finished the major league season with a 5-4 record, a 4.09 ERA, and 72 2/3 innings pitched.
Steven Wright arrived at spring training in 2016, ready to pitch. He performed well, and slid into the rotation in the final week of camp when Eduardo Rodriguez landed on the disabled list. He was fooling batters with his knuckleball almost every time he took the mound, had an All-Star first half.
On May 25th, the Sox beat he Rockies, 10-3. Sox starter Steven Wright, who had not gotten more than five runs of support in any of his previous eight starts, went seven innings for the fourth time this season, giving up three runs (two earned) on seven hits with seven strikeouts. He had to work through the fact that his knuckleball juked so unpredictably it eluded catcher Ryan Hanigan seven times (four on passed balls, three on wild pitches). He'd now struck out six or more batters seven times, tied for third in the AL. After an outing in which he didn't permit a single extra-base hit, opponents now had a .290 slugging percentage against him, third lowest against any AL starter.
In Baltimore, on May 30th, Wright allowed four hits, walked five, and threw two wild pitches. In the Sox 7-2 win, the Orioles did little beyond scoring two runs on three hits, as Wright struck out seven and got 13 outs on the ground. His knuckleball was unpredictable because catcher, Ryan Hanigan, appeared to be trying to smother it from the start.
On June 12th, Wright (8-4), who ranked second in the AL in ERA (2.22), allowed three runs over 7 1/3 innings, to lead the Red Sox to a 6-4 victory.
It was a freak shoulder injury while diving back to a base as a pinch-runner that ended his season.