Knuckleballer Wright finding consistency with pitch

Knuckleballer Wright finding consistency with pitch

TORONTO -- Steven Wright, a 31-year-old knuckleballer, looks fully ready to get the job done as the fifth starter for the Red Sox.

Facing perhaps the toughest lineup in the American League, Wright took a 3-0 loss to the Blue Jays. However, he was actually the reason his team stayed in the game.

Over 6 2/3 innings, Wright scattered six hits while allowing two runs (one earned). He walked three batters and struck out five, giving the Red Sox their longest start so far this season.

"Outstanding job on his part," manager John Farrell said. "Kept us in the game into the seventh inning. He minimized the damage as much as possible in the first, but after that first inning, he settled in and controlled and commanding the knuckleball very well. He used his fastball at times to get ahead in the count, to get back into counts. But we ran into an outstanding pitching performance by [Marco] Estrada today."

Entering his fourth full season in the Red Sox organization, Wright seems to have gained the consistency he needs to stay in the Major Leagues. In Spring Training, he won the competition for a spot that opened up when lefty Eduardo Rodriguez suffered a right knee injury.

Wright starts double play

If not for Boston's offense finally being shut down after scoring six runs or more in the first four games, Wright could very well have earned a win.

Wright's quality start was the first Boston has recorded since David Price did it against the Indians on Opening Day.

"Obviously, every outing you want to go as deep as you can, so to be able to get into the seventh was huge," Wright said. "They put a 'W' on us, so have to tip your hat to them."

As the Red Sox fell out of contention in the second half last season, one of the most underrated stories was how dependable Wright proved when given a chance to start. Before sustaining a concussion in batting practice before a road game against the Marlins in August, Wright gave up three earned runs or fewer in eight of his nine starts.

Like many knuckleballers, Wright is a late bloomer after converting from a conventional pitcher five years ago.

If Wright can maintain his consistency, he could have many years left in his career. The knuckleball is much less taxing on the arm, as evidenced by Wright being able to throw a career-high of 118 pitches in his first start on Sunday.

The first inning was topsy-turvy, as Wright's outing started with two singles, a passed ball and a walk. Then there was a potential double-play ball that Dustin Pedroia made a rare throwing error on, giving the Jays an extra run on the play to take a 2-0 lead.

Blue Jays score two on grounder

From there, Wright was lights-out.

"I've been working with [pitching coach] Carl [Willis] on staying under control," Wright said. "For the first couple of innings, I was definitely more antsy, but I was able to find the rhythm. The fact that I was able to keep it over the plate helps, because they're a very aggressive team, but you've got to throw strikes, that's the name of the game. To be able to throw strikes, and get them to hit the ball in play, I was very pleased with my ability to keep it in the zone."

Wright will stay in Boston's rotation until at least early May, at which point Rodriguez is expected to come off the disabled list. Out of options, Wright is likely to remain on the roster and move to the bullpen if need be.

Wright has proven he can get the job done in both roles. On Sunday, Wright was able to thrive despite pitching on nine days of rest.

"Very sharp," Farrell said. "And he's shown that before when he's been in the bullpen, come out and spot-started. Either short rest or long rest, it doesn't seem to affect his touch and feel of the pitch. Credit him for the number of days down to go out and pitch as well as he did."

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.