Wednesday night was an atrocious night for Steven Wright that he would like to forget as quickly as humanly possible. In case you missed it, he allowed a whopping eight runs, including four home runs, over just 1 1⁄3 innings against the Orioles. It was precisely the kind of outing that turns people against knuckleballers. Sometimes, the knuckleball just doesn’t knuckle, and if any lineup in baseball is going to take advantage of that it’s going to be the Orioles. It always seems like knuckleballers have the potential to implode, and that’s particularly true when they face a lineup as powerful as Baltimore’s.
The feeling that is surrounding Wright at this moment isn’t all about Wednesday night, either. He hasn’t been particularly great since the end of last summer, when he was finishing off his unlikely run to the All-Star Game. Since July 26 of last year — a span that includes just seven starts, because of the shoulder injury he suffered in Los Angeles last year — Wright has an ERA of 7.85. That’s....that’s not good.
In fact, this stretch is causing something of a mini panic. I say mini, because people don’t really seem to be screaming from the rooftops. At least, they’re not yet. If he continues to struggle, one can expect the cries to replace Wright to only get louder. Obviously, I understand the sentiment. Last year’s run came out of nowhere, and whenever that happens it’s on the player to repeat that performance before we can totally buy into them being that good. When they follow up that kind of season with what Wright has done over his last seven starts, it’s only natural to be skeptical of his true talent level. With that being said, I’m not really there yet. Obviously, I’m not thrilled about what happened on Wednesday, but it wasn’t enough to make me totally lose confidence in Wright.
One thing I saw a lot of last night is that he must still be suffering some consequences from his shoulder injury. If you recall, the injury Wright sustained pinch running in that game against the Dodgers was still bothering him at the start of spring training, so he got off to something of a slow start. He got started a little before Drew Pomeranz and he was able to start the season on time. Now, this kind of implosion happens and it’s easy to blame it on the injury. However, that ignores his first start. While that outing wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t a horrendous day for the knuckleballer, either.
If you just look at the box score, you’re not going to come away too impressed with Wright’s day against Detroit on April 7. He did make it 6 2⁄3 innings through the start, but he allowed four runs on seven hits and three walks with just four strikeouts. He was better than that line, though. Wright had a strong stretch in that game in the middle innings, and it was a questionable decision to bring him back out in the seventh to begin with. (It was a decision I agreed with, for what it’s worth, but not everyone did.) He’d end up allowing two runs in that inning, which sort of changed everything with that line. If he had allowed two runs in six innings of work, I think we’d be looking at him a lot differently right now.
There’s also the matter of the weather, which is something of a strange topic for me when it comes to Wright. On the one hand, I’m not trying to make excuses for him. It’s his job to pitch well whenever he gets the start, regardless of what’s happening with Mother Nature. On the other hand, as a knuckleballer he is such a different beast than just about everyone else in baseball, and it kind of makes sense that he’s treated differently. We’ve learned over the last year or so that Wright is at his best when the weather isn’t too humid and when there’s no moisture in the air. It rained in Boston on Wednesday, and while the precipitation had subsided by the time first pitch rolled around, it was still a wet night. Again, this is not to make an excuse for the outing. He sucked, and he deserves the brunt of the blame for that awful game. Looking forward, though, it may not be the most predictive start.
I’m not saying that we should be expecting the Wright from last season to come back. That was almost certainly a one-time thing. At the same time, he was so damn good that it’s hard to see him back-sliding enough to be someone that’s not worthy of a rotation spot. Last year, Wright was particularly effective with his fastball, and having such good command with that after pounding away with knuckleballs all day is a weapon. Even if that’s not happening, he’ll be fine if the knuckleball is knuckling. It wasn’t on Wednesday, but that doesn’t mean it won’t again. In the end, I’d expect many more outings like his first one rather than his second. That won’t put him back in the All-Star Game, but it will make him an effective enough back-end starter. With the talent Boston has up front, that’s more than enough.