DUNEDIN, Fla. — Tim Wakefield schedules his visits to Red Sox camp to coincide with games that fellow knuckleballer Steven Wright will start. So with Wright scheduled to pitch four innings against the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday, Wakefield boarded the team bus for the long ride north.
It was worth the trip. After working a bit with Wakefield in the bullpen before the game, Wright threw four scoreless innings against the Jays. The Red Sox lost the game, 2-1, in 10 innings.
Wright allowed three hits (all singles) in his four innings, walked one, and struck out one. Of his 55 pitches, 35 were strikes.
In a short tutorial before the game, Wakefield reminded Wright to keep his lower body back on the rubber and follow through with more balance when releasing the ball.
“Once I stay back, I can accelerate through the ball and it gives me a better opportunity to make a quality pitch,” Wright said.
Said Wakefield: “It’s just like a hitter, keep your weight back. Steven was keeping his arm where he needed to. He looked good.”
Wright put two runners on to start the second inning but started a double play by snagging a one-hopper back to the mound by Junior Lake. The Blue Jays never came close to scoring against him.
Wright threw five fastballs and two or three curveballs to keep the Toronto hitters off balance.
“The curveball is a pitch that he has worked on this spring. He’s incorporated it a little bit more to get back in counts,” manager John Farrell said. “I thought he threw three pitches for strikes and was very much in control.”
The curveball is a good weapon against a switch hitter who might bat righthanded against Wright, something that is common against a knuckleballer.
Wright missed the final two months of last season because of a concussion. But he has walked only two batters in nine innings in spring training, counting his start against Boston College.
“He’s always been a guy who has been able to throw the ball over the plate, even with the knuckleball,” Farrell said. “That’s a talent in and of itself. You seem continue to evolve as a knuckleball pitcher.”
Wright admitted to be surprised at his good control.
“A lot is the stuff I’m working on with Wake,” Wright said. “Helping me control my body and my hand, which helps me understand where my release point is. If I can understand where my release point is, that’s crucial for me.”
Farrell said Wright is “certainly” in contention for a spot on the Opening Day roster, whether it’s as a starter or in the bullpen. The Sox could need a starter for the first few weeks of the season to fill in for Eduardo Rodriguez, who has yet to pitch in spring training.
Wright is out of minor league options, so if the Red Sox don’t keep him it’s likely he would land with another team.
“Just go out and pitch. Force the hand and see how it works out. He’s doing that,” Farrell said.
Wright hasn’t let the future interfere with the present.
“Out of my control,” he said. “Whatever the coaches think of me, the media thinks of me, the organization thinks of me, I have to pitch well on the day I pitch,” he said. “That’s all I can do. If I worry about what’s going to happen, I won’t pitch as well.”
In his second game since returning from Tommy John surgery, Christian Vazquez caught Wright’s outing and came away feeling strong. No Blue Jays tried to steal on Vazquez, but he did make a quick throw to first base trying to pick off Jio Mier in the third inning.
Vazquez also hammered a Marcus Stroman pitch to the warning track in right field in his only at-bat.
Farrell said Vazquez would next catch five innings in a game early next week. The coaches were pleased to see him try that throw to first.
“I almost got him,” Vazquez said.