PAWTUCKET, R.I. This years trading deadline was unlike anything Steven Wright had experienced before.
After being taken by Cleveland in the second round of the 2006 draft out of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Wright had spent his career with the Indians until July 31. Just after the 4 p.m. trading deadline that day, though, it was announced that the Red Sox had acquired him, assigning him to Double-A Portland.
Wright was with Double-A Akron at Hadlock Field in Portland when he got the news.
It was nuts, Wright said. Because I was throwing my bullpen with Akron in Portland and then right when I got done Tony Arnold, our pitching coach, got a call. I saw his phone and it said Chris Tremie, which is our manager. And he talked to him for a couple of minutes and then told me I had to go to see the manager. He wouldnt let me do anything. I was supposed to run and condition and all that. He said, No, you cant. You got to go see him. So I walked in and he told me I got traded to Boston.
I talked to Red Sox farm director Ben Crockett and he told me they were sending me to Portland. So I packed my stuff up and walked across to their clubhouse. It was crazy because we still had to play the game that night. So I was sitting in the stands, charting for Portland against Akron. It was fun but it didnt hit me until Akron got on the bus and went to another city.
Then we went back to Akron the next week and I was in the other clubhouse. That was weird. I was still going through the same entrance that I always went through but just kept walking to the other clubhouse. I stayed in my apartment. So it was kind of crazy.
But now, Wright figures hes in the right organization for a knuckleball pitcher, a place where he could continue the legacy left after Tim Wakefields retirement. Although hes only been a full-time knuckleball pitcher for just two seasons, its a pitch hes been throwing since he was a kid.
I started throwing it when I was nine, he said. Frank Pastore, my old pitching coach, threw one back to me and I was just kind of intrigued with it, and I was watching Wakefield on TV. In 2010 I was struggling a little bit. I started in Triple-A, got sent back down to Double-A, and I needed an outpitch. And one day I jumped up on the mound, messing around, not even thinking anything of it, and just having fun. The coaches saw it, and were like you might want to start throwing that as an outpitch. So thats kind of where it started. I went into 2011, the same thing: fastball, slider, with my knuckleball as my outpitch. I had a good spring, they brought in former knuckleball pitcher Tom Candiotti to work with me.
He also had a chance to talk with Wakefield earlier this season. Former Red Sox coach Rob Leary, now the Indians minor league field coordinator, arranged a brief phone call between the two knuckleball pitchers.
After one start with Portland, Wright, who turns 28 on Aug. 30, was promoted on Aug. 8 to Triple-A Pawtucket, where Rich Sauveur, a former left-handed knuckleballer, is his pitching coach.
His is better than mine, Sauveur said. Even though mine was my main pitch, too. But Ill concede.
Wright has made just one start for the PawSox, going five innings, allowing two runs on five hits and walk with three strikeouts Aug. 11 at Rochester. He was placed on the seven-day disabled list on Aug.16 with right shoulder tightness, but is expected to be activated to start Friday at Charlotte.
He did a great job the first night, Sauveur said. Throws it somewhere between R.A. Dickey and Tim Wakefield velocity-wise. But its a good knuckleball, something to look for, because I think hes got some room to grow. Hes 27 but its pretty good stuff.
He gave up a couple runs early the other night and then he threw some zeros up, said Pawtucket manager Arnie Beyeler. He did a nice job. He throws strikes with it and guys swing at it. Typical knuckleball outing: five inns, deep counts, some crazy swings, a few hard hit balls when you get behind.
Sauveur has worked with other knuckleball pitchers in the organization, including Charlie Zink, when he was the International League pitcher of the year in 2008. Sauveur said Wrights knuckleball is better than Zinks.
Charlie had a decent knuckleball when he was here, Sauveur said. But looking at Wrights, its got a lot of movement. Im not saying hes a Tim Wakefield but you never know. And I can tell you hes got a chance.
A chance to help the big league team, Sauveur means.