FORT MYERS, Fla. — Major League Baseball on Wednesday suspended Red Sox pitcher Steven Wright for 80 games without pay following a positive test for a performance-enhancing drug.
Wright, a 34-year-old knuckleballer who is recovering from a knee injury, denied knowingly using GHRP-2, a synthetic peptide that stimulates the secretion of human growth hormone.
Wright is the first Red Sox player suspended for drug use since the testing program was instituted in 2006. The penalty will cost him approximately $568,000.
“I never thought it would come down to this,” said Wright, who learned Tuesday night that his appeal had been denied.
The Red Sox saw Wright as having the potential to be an important member of their bullpen, his knuckleball serving as a fluttering contrast to the conventional offerings of their other pitchers.
But now he cannot play until June 24 and is banned from the postseason.
“It sucks. There’s no way around it. It flat-out sucks,” Wright said. “But it’s in the [drug testing] agreement and I like the agreement. Unfortunately it sucks for me now, but I think it’s a deterrent for future people from violating the program. There’s no easy way to try to dance around it.”
Wright served a 15-game suspension last April for violating MLB’s domestic violence policy during an incident at his home in Tennessee on Dec. 8, 2017.
“Obviously, I’m disappointed,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “We’ll give the player the support that he needs.”
Wright said the positive test occurred in the offseason and the MLB Players Association filed an appeal on his behalf. Wright said a “pretty rigorous” investigation by the union could not determine the source of the drug.
“I know for a fact it was not from the doctors. Somehow it got in there,” Wright said. “It was such low levels that it could have come from anywhere . . . Not one time in my mind did I ever think this would be possible because I feel like I’m pretty careful. But I guess I’m not careful enough.”
GHRP-2 is not a drug used in over-the-counter nutritional supplements.
The Red Sox released a statement saying they supported MLB’s testing program and the elimination of performance-enhancing drugs from the game.
Wright did not inform the Red Sox of the situation until last week, which is not unusual. Players with a pending suspension are told not to inform their clubs.
“I knew that it was coming. It’s just I kind of held out hope through the arbitration and hearing and stuff,” Wright said. “But I knew it was inevitable.”
Wright claimed he was not worried about the reaction of his teammates.
“I feel all right because I know the truth. That’s the biggest thing,” he said. “People close to me know I wouldn’t intentionally do this to try and get an upper hand.”
Wright was an All-Star in 2016 but has seen his career derailed by injuries since.
He suffered a shoulder injury while pinch running on Aug. 7, 2016, and appeared in only two more games that season.
A knee injury limited Wright to five games in 2017 before he underwent surgery. He returned to the majors last May but lasted only a month before returning to the injured list for two months.
Wright came back and pitched well enough to be included on the postseason roster. But he reinjured his knee before Game 1 of the Division Series and was replaced. That led to a second knee surgery in November.
Wright has yet to pitch off a mound in spring training and was questionable for the Opening Day roster.
The suspension underscores the risk the Sox took in not adding any prominent relievers to their roster to replace free agents Joe Kelly and Craig Kimbrel.
“Somebody’s going to step up,” Cora said. “They’re going to perform and help us out . . . we have to turn the page. He’s not the first one; he’s not going to be the last one.”
Cora did not refer to Wright by name while answering questions.