FORT MYERS, Fla. — Steven Wright knew he should have felt worse when Red Sox manager John Farrell called him into his office Tuesday morning and told him to report to minor league camp. But Wright couldn’t muster up even a little disappointment.
Spending a month with the Sox in spring training was a career turning point for Wright, a 28-year-old knuckleballer. In the Red Sox, he found a team that believes in him.
“As we mentioned to Steven on the way out, he’s in the right place,” said Farrell. “He’s in an organization that embraces the knuckleball, the knuckleball pitcher. Yet he’s still a work in progress.”
Wright, who was optioned to Triple A Pawtucket, appeared in four games this spring, with mixed results. He allowed seven earned runs on 10 hits over 7⅓ innings but threw only a few pitches that were hit hard. He walked seven and struck out six.
“The results weren’t always what I wanted, but I feel like I made a lot of progress,” said Wright, who was a conventional pitcher before taking up the knuckleball in earnest in 2011. “Just knowing that this organization thinks I have a future has been a big boost for me.”
The Sox acquired Wright from the Indians last July and quickly promoted him to Pawtucket. He was then added to the 40-man roster for the first time in his career. The Sox also enlisted retired knuckleballer Tim Wakefield to work with Wright.
“All of that stuff has been huge, especially getting to work with Wake,” said Wright. “He’s helped me with the mental side of it and showed me a lot about the pitch. It has been a process for me, and it feels like that process is speeding up.”
Wright was buried in the Indians organization before he turned to the knuckleball. That raised his stock a little before Cleveland traded him to the Sox for first baseman Lars Anderson.
“Some organizations don’t have the patience for it,” said Wright. “The knuckleball isn’t for everybody. But Cleveland gave me a chance and now the Red Sox are giving me an opportunity to do even more.
“Just being around major league pitchers this spring has been great. You feel like you’re close.”
Wright will be in the rotation at Pawtucket, putting him in position to get called up when the Sox need a starter.
“Yes, without a doubt,” Farrell said when asked if Wright could develop into a useful major leaguer.
There are improvements to be made before that happens. Wright has to develop a consistent release point with the knuckleball and learn to control it.
Wright throws a knuckleball 90 percent of the time but has worked on adding other pitches to give him another look when needed. He showed in his last outing, Sunday against Tampa Bay, that he could throw a curveball for strikes when behind in the count.
Farrell said Wakefield has encouraged Wright to add a different pitch from time to time to keep batters off balance.
Wright threw a scoreless inning against the Rays. He is scheduled to start a minor league game Friday.
“I’m going there with a positive feeling,” he said. “Pawtucket will be a good experience for me. I knew I wasn’t going to make the team this year, not with the starters we have. Now my job is to be ready if the time comes.”