Steven Wright returned from suspension on Monday and kicked off a series of difficult roster decisions for the Boston Red Sox. In this case, Boston sent arguably their most reliable reliever, Hector Velazquez, to the 10-day DL for, well, some sort of phantom injury. It’s a risky proposition to trot out a knuckleballer from the bullpen, but the Red Sox chose that route for Wright regardless, and he faltered a bit last night in his first appearance of the year.
Wright allowed 5 hitters to reach base (2 hits, 3 walks) against the A’s, resulting in 2 earned runs in 2.1 IP. To be fair to Wright, newly recalled Bobby Poyner is the man who gave up the hit that brought the 2 Oakland runs home, but Wright didn’t exactly hand a good situation off to Poyner upon his exit.
Wright was a welcome surprise to the Boston rotation in his first full season in the big leagues in 2016, going 13-6 with a 3.33 ERA in 24 starts. He had a mess of a time to begin last year, however, posting an 8.25 ERA in 5 starts before requiring season ending knee surgery. Nonetheless, he was expected to be a positive addition to the pitching staff upon his return in 2018, albeit in a different role than he’s accustomed to, but last night’s outing has raised some questions.
For one, how prudent is it to hand a knuckleballer the ball out of the bullpen in tight games? Many would say it’s unwise to do so, but in defense of Alex Cora and the rest of the decision makers within the Red Sox organization, it’s not exactly a novel idea. Tim Wakefield comes to mind first when thinking about knuckleball relievers, particularly because he’s an all-time Red Sox great. In the final two years of his tenure in Boston, Wakefield made 23 appearances in relief, and while he wasn’t exactly the most dominating pitcher in that role, he was perfectly effective as a long reliever.
If that’s the job that Wright will be tasked with this year, and his extended 2.1 inning appearance last night suggests that it is, then he deserves more than a single game to prove himself on the mound. One or two bad outings does not make a pitcher a failure, and yesterday’s sub-par performance from Wright should not instantly put him over the coals.