Boston Red Sox starter Steven Wright was just one of many possibilities to backend the rotation. Instead, the knuckleball pitcher is mowing down the bats.
Last night, Wright earned his fourth win of the season, holding off the Colorado Rockies until Boston got onto the scoreboard. Wright threw seven innings, allowing three runs, two of them earned, on seven hits, two walks, and seven strikeouts. The Red Sox cashed in four runs in the bottom of the fourth inning and another three runs in the fifth, putting the lead out of reach for the opposition to make a comeback.
Not that they had a chance against Wright, the way that he’s been pitching.
Out of 117 pitches, Wright threw in the strikezone 74 times, inducing six groundouts to three flyballs. The performance kept his ERA to 2.52, the best of all the Red Sox starting pitchers. For a knuckleball pitcher, with a pitch designed to be hit, he has struck out 54 batters in nine games this season. That total has already surpassed the 52 strikeouts that he had in 2015, after playing in 16 games.
The only bad game that Wright’s had, comparatively to his other starts, was on May 13th against the Houston Astros. He only pitched 4.1 innings and allowed five runs on nine hits. Judging by his other games, that performance was a blip on an otherwise successful season, thus far.
So why only a 4-4 record? The four losses came when the run support wasn’t there for him. Two losses against the Toronto Blue Jays occurred in April, even though Wright only allowed a combined three runs. The Houston game was a no-decision, but the starts against the Chicago White Sox and Kansas City Royals proved unsuccessful, despite the fact that he allowed only five combined runs in those two games in which he pitched six and eight innings, respectively.
Out of the seven pitchers who have started for the Red Sox, Wright is leading in ERA, opposing batting average (.208), and tied for second in strikeouts with Rick Porcello (54).
Players like Porcello, Joe Kelly, and big free agent David Price were brought in through trades and big contracts, over the last two seasons, to create a dominant starting rotation. And, while Price is 7-1 and Porcello being 7-2, Wright’s performances have been almost legendary.
As legendary as former Red Sox knuckler Tim Wakefield? Well, Wakefield’s career ERA is 4.41, and he was under 3.00 only three times in his career: 1992 (2.15), 1995 (2.95), and 2002 (2.81). So, it’s not unheard of for a knuckleball pitcher to have a low ERA or opposing batting average, like he did in 2002 with a mark of .204. In 2003, Wakefield also had 169 strikeouts in 202.1 innings of work. Technically, Wright is on pace to shatter that mark to strike out 180 batters, if he were to pitch the same amount of innings by the end of this season.
Price may be the ace, Porcello may be battling it out with Kelly to be the comeback pitchers for the Red Sox, but Wright is definitely not pitching like a mere fifth starter. Wright is doing more than just anchoring Boston’s ship, he’s guiding it to more and more opportunities for victories, as long as the run support doesn’t give out on him.