Steven Wright’s first career major league start on Tuesday night in Houston did not go as well as the knuckleballer had planned. In fact, it was nothing short of a nightmare.
His knuckleball proved impossible for Ryan Lavarnway to catch, leading to four passed balls in the first inning to go with two walks, a hit and three earned runs. Manager John Farrell ended Wright’s night after one inning, saying the fact that it was the first time Wright pitched in an indoor stadium contributed to the lack of control.
Peter Gammons joined Toucher & Rich on Wednesday morning and said that explanation does have merit.
“This was his first game indoors. I buy that,” Gammons said. “He throws his knuckler much harder than almost any other knuckleballer. He still throws his fastball 86-88 miles per hour, and his knuckleball can be up at around 80, 81, which is extremely fast. … Tim Wakefield was really good at controlling his knuckler in doors … but he had some practice doing it. Wright had not.
“Wright is very much a work in progress. This is a guy that I think a year from now will be really good, because he has so much break and so much velocity on his knuckler. But I think you gotta go through some really ugly times.”
The comparisons to Wakefield are inevitable for Wright, though it’s clear they’re vastly different pitchers. Nevertheless, Gammons said Wright can learn a lot from the way Wakefield handled his career.
“One of the great things about Tim Wakefield was that he was so patient. You have to be so patient,” Gammons said. “You have to go, ‘Sometimes the ball is going to end up in the Monster seats.’ But he would hang in there and keep trying and give you innings. I think that’s eventually what Wright may be able to do for them, is be a four or five starter who throws 220 innings and saves other pitchers. And if a team is good enough offensively, and they can score five or six runs a game, If he pitches seven innings and gives up four runs, he gives them a chance to win.”
Gammons was also asked about Jacoby Ellsbury, who hit two homers in a game the Red Sox eventually won 15-10. Jon Wallach asked if Ellsbury is raising his play late in the season so that he may cash in with a mega-contract in the offseason.
“I don’t think he’s sitting there going, ‘I better call Scott Boras and find out what I’m worth today,’ or, ‘Oh I hit two home runs, what am I worth today?’ I just don’t think that’s in his makeup,” Gammons said.
Gammons also said that if Mike Napoli’s struggles continue, the Red Sox will likely make some changes in September, when Xander Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks will likely be on the team due to the expanded roster.
“If Middlebrooks gets hot again against left-handed pitching, which he was for a couple of months last year, is that all of a sudden going to tempt them to put Middlebrooks in the lineup against lefties?” Gammons pondered.