Red Sox bullpen: what is Steven Wright’s role?
For the first time in his life, Steven Wright is on the Opening Day roster for a major league team. Injuries to Koji Uehara and Joe Kelly opened up a pair of spots in the pitching staff and Wright, who posted a 2.60 ERA in 6 spring appearances (4 starts), was the recipient of one of them.
However, with Wright a relatively unproven commodity and considering the inherently volatile nature of the knuckleball, it’s worth wondering where he’ll fit in the Red Sox bullpen.
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And the obvious answer there is that Wright will serve as the long man out of the bullpen. Aside from Wright, the Red Sox have nobody that can routinely eat a number of innings in a mop-up role or in extra innings. In his brief major league stints in the past, Wright has been a long man and has been relatively successful in that role. When serving out of the Red Sox bullpen, Wright has averaged over three innings per appearance while posting a very respectable 3.49 ERA (4.50 when starting) and 3.00 K/BB (1.25 when starting).
However, there’s reason to believe that Wright could be even better at long relief in 2015 than in year’s past. Last season, he finally began to develop better command of his knuckler, walking just 2.1 batters per nine innings in Triple-A. Improved command of his knuckleball will lead to fewer walks, more strikeouts, and potentially a dominant relief pitcher.
It’s tough to say how much time Wright, the first knuckleballer to crack the Red Sox’ Opening Day roster since Tim Wakefield, will spend in Boston this year. Once Uehara and/or Kelly return to the major leagues, the Red Sox may choose to option Wright back to Pawtucket. If he succeeds in long relief, though, he could certainly carve himself a niche on the roster and could play an important role in a somewhat thin Red Sox bullpen.
Now 30 years old, Wright is mastering his knuckleball and turning into a legitimate option for the Red Sox. He might not hold down a major league job for the entire year, but don’t be surprised if Wright spends the majority of his time in Boston this season, coming out of the bullpen in a long relief role.