Chris Sale walked by going to his locker as Steven Wright stood in the center of the Red Sox clubhouse on Tuesday taking questions from reporters about his return to the team following an 80-game suspension after a positive test for a synthetic drug that promotes the production of human growth hormone.
Sale was wearing a gray T-shirt that read “All Me” on the front and “Train Hard. Eat Right. Play Fair.” on the back.
The Taylor Hooton Foundation, which was founded to discourage the use of performance-enhancing drugs by young athletes, produced the shirt, and you see it fairly often in clubhouses.
Sale, Dustin Pedroia, and Dodgers star Clayton Kershaw are among the 32 major leaguers on the foundation’s advisory staff.
Sale wears that particular T-shirt, or one like it, every day, so he was not trying to make a point on Tuesday.
But the lefthander said in March that Wright’s suspension reflected badly on the team. Rick Porcello made similar comments.
Wright addressed the team at the time of his suspension, then essentially disappeared, the Sox taking away his locker in the major league clubhouse and sending him to minor league camp.
Now Wright is back on the roster and is expected to play a significant role in propping up the battered bullpen.
It could get uncomfortable.
“Obviously it’s not easy,” manager Alex Cora said. “It’s a topic. But everybody goes about their business the way they always do.”
Wright, to his credit, took on all questions for seven minutes. He said he apologized to the team in March for causing a distraction.
“I needed to talk to them and it was one probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do,” Wright said.
Wright could help the Sox if his left knee remains stable. The knuckleballer gave up one earned run over 13⅔ innings in relief appearances last September. He also pitched well in five games for Triple A Pawtucket this month.
The plan is to use him in relief rather than risk his knee for five or more innings as a starter.
Under the rules of his suspension, Wright would not be eligible for the postseason. But the Sox have to get there first for that to be an issue.
Wright continues to deny he knowingly took a banned drug and claimed he “has some ideas” what happened without providing details.
“I didn’t want to dig into it too much because at the same time I wasn’t going to find out,” he said. “There’s no reason for me to keep my concentration on that. I just wanted to move on.”
Wright certainly fits the profile of a player desperate enough to break the rules. He’s a 34-year-old who had pitched only 25 games the previous two seasons because of injuries and is eligible for salary arbitration.
Now he’s out $568,000 in salary and whatever the cost is for a permanently damaged reputation.
“It falls on me,” Wright said. “I wasn’t as careful as I should be.”
Wright should be out of second chances with the Sox at this point. He was arrested for domestic violence in December 2017 and served a 15-game suspension the following season.
That’s 95 games of suspension time in two years.
“It’s actually been humbling, to be honest with you,” he said. “It’s obviously been hard, the stuff last year with the domestic violence and this year with the PED stuff. But it just made me get a lot closer to my family. That’s who I leaned on the most throughout this whole process.
“It made me not take anything for granted. It’s stuff that you never think you’re going to experience and by doing it, it’s like you almost have to take a step back and be like, man, I’ve really got to cherish the times that I do have the clubhouse because just that quickly it can be taken away.”
Michael Chavis, who started at first base on Tuesday, was suspended 80 games last season when he tested positive for steroid use. He also denied it.
The Red Sox also have righthander Jenrry Mejia, who tested positive three times while playing for the Mets, on their Triple A roster. He has a 6.82 earned run average over 31 games.
I asked Cora if that made him uneasy, managing a team having two players who tested positive.
He didn’t deny it.
“It is what it is. We know that there’s still people out there that do it,” he said. “I think MLB has done an outstanding job of trying to clean up the game. The penalty is harsh. There’s people that take chances and they pay the price.”