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Knuckleballer Steven Wright Roughed Up in First Start: What’s Next?

(Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Steven Wright lasted only one inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park while giving up threes runs and walking two and hitting one in his first start in the big leagues. He struggled keeping control of his knuckleball to the tune of four passed balls by catcher Ryan Lavarnway. The ball was dancing way too much in the domed stadium and that led to the yanking of Wright after the first inning.

The 28-year-old has been in the minors since graduating from Hawaii in 2006. That covers a span from 2007 until his major-league debut in April of this season. He has made 30 straight starts since 2012 in the minor leagues with no relief appearances, but does not seem ready to start full-time in the big leagues.

Wright has struggled with his walks for most of his career, including walking 55 batters in 106 1/3 innings of work with the Pawtucket Red Sox. He stands at 5-6.

He has walked nine in 13 1/3 innings with the Red Sox in four games. He still remains 2-0, but has a 5.40 ERA in those outings.

The one thing the youngster has going for him has to be the speed of his knuckleball. He throws in the 70’s and his ball has some movement that will make many hitters look foolish. As with many knuckleballers, he has a lack of control in the pitch and that will likely put him as a bottom of the rotation starter or even just an arm out of the bullpen.

Wright has some success out of the bullpen, including a 5 2/3 innings in an appearance on July 11 against the Seattle Mariners when he allowed three hits and no runs while striking out three and walking two. He also had another great outing against the Mariners on August 1 with three innings of shutout work with two strikeouts, one walk and two hits allowed.

The knuckleballer began throwing the pitch in 2011 and uses the pitch more than half of the time on the mound, which leads to many of his walks, but also can fool many hitters. Not many pitchers still use the knuckleball and mastering it is very difficult to do. Only Tim Wakefield was able to make a career with the Red Sox by using the knuckleball on a regular basis.

The Red Sox have a plethora of arms coming up in the minors. These pitchers include Rubby De La Rosa, Brandon Workman, Allen Webster, Anthony Ranaudo and Henry Owens, as all of those pitchers could arrive to the big leagues as soon as the 2014 or 2015 seasons. The team has a full rotation now as we speak and Wright may be the odd man out if two or three of these pitchers does well when he is called up.

Wright may not have made a great first impression with his one-inning start on Tuesday evening, but he still has plenty of time to prove himself as a major-league pitcher over the course of the next several seasons.

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