Wright Stuff

I don’t know about you, but I really enjoyed having Tim Wakefield on the Boston Red Sox all those years.

He was a jack of all trades, tossing middle relief, closing out games, and starting, and while he was always a liability to give up 7 runs in 4 innings or something equally terrible, there were days when Wake was nearly unhittable. Like every other Boston fan, I spent many a summer afternoon pulling my hair out and threatening to turn off NESN for the rest of the game because Wakefield was giving up double after double off the Green Monster, but I’ve got to say, I think his contribution to the team was overwhelmingly positive.

And you just learned to take the wicked good with the bad. The knuckleball can be a fickle mistress—sometimes she dances, sometimes she don’t.

Steven Wright knuckle-balled his way through 5.2 innings of relief on Thursday night, spreading only 3 hits and 2 walks over 21 total Mariners faced. He struck out 3.

Setting aside how abysmal Ryan Dempster (Dumpster?) was in the 8-7 (F/10) Red Sox win, fans have got to be encouraged by what they saw from Wright. The MLB rumor mill is abuzz with you-need-to-trade-for-bullpen-help chatter, Andrew Miller has just gone down for the season with a foot injury, Allen Webster has failed (yet again) to establish himself as a worthy 5th starter, and then all of a sudden—the knuckleball, she started dancing!

Wright is different from Wakefield not only because Wakefield brought enough consistency to make him a valuable and relevant pitcher for 17 years, but also because their pitching speeds are different. Wakefield threw knuckleballs in the 60’s and fastballs in the 70’s (though I did see him hit like 82 MPH once), whereas Wright throws knuckleballs in the 70’s and fastballs firmly in the mid-to-high 80’s. Whether this variation is better, worse, or a wash remains to be seen.

The Red Sox need a 5th starter and they need bullpen help. That’s obvious enough. But where they plan to acquire such assistance remains to be seen. They will certainly explore all their options, looking for solutions within the organization (Rubby De La Rosa, perhaps) and on the trade market, but don’t be surprised to see John Farrell put the ball in the knuckleballer’s hand again before long. If Wright could be a strong middle reliever for them, or even a viable starter, the Red Sox want to know about it as soon as possible.

Now, I’m not willing to crown Wright the next Tim Wakefield after one good outing against the Mariners—after all, his only other appearance in long relief this year was 3.2 IP, 6H, 5ER, and 4K vs. Oakland back on April 23rd—and Stevie could just as easily perform more like 2013 RA Dickey, but his success on Thursday must give us pause.

Even if Steven Wright can be a guy who’s so-so most of the time but borderline amazing here and there—that’s valuable to the Red Sox. As a starter, as a middle reliever, whatever. Tim Wakefield had brushes with putrescence, but I’d even take the 2003-2010 version of him in my starting rotation/bullpen right now given the chance. Knuckleballers, submariners, and side-armers tend to net you a few free outs based solely on the fact that opposing teams need to pick up and adjust to their release points and delivery styles, so Wright may be worth keeping on the roster for that alone.

At worst, he might come in to bail out Ryan Dempster and make things even worse like he did when he was brought in for Alfredo Aceves in April, but at best, well…I’ve got to admit I had starry eyes imagining Wright’s knuckleball dancing through a few key innings in the ALCS or beyond.

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