Mullen on the Minors: Sea Dogs' Wright settling in after 'crazy' deadline deal

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Mullen on the Minors: Sea Dogs' Wright settling in after 'crazy' deadline deal

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.

MLB players' union agrees to pitchless intentional walks

MLB players' union agrees to pitchless intentional walks

NEW YORK - There won't be any wild pitches on intentional walks this season.

The players' association has agreed to Major League Baseball's proposal to have intentional walks without pitches this year.

"It doesn't seem like that big of a deal. I know they're trying to cut out some of the fat. I'm OK with that," Cleveland manager Terry Francona said.

While the union has resisted many of MLB's proposed innovations, such as raising the bottom of the strike zone, installing pitch clocks and limiting trips to the mound, players are willing to accept the intentional walk change.

"As part of a broader discussion with other moving pieces, the answer is yes," union head Tony Clark wrote Wednesday in an email to The Associated Press. "There are details, as part of that discussion, that are still being worked through, however."

The union's decision was first reported by ESPN .

"I'm OK with it. You signal. I don't think that's a big deal," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "For the most part, it's not changing the strategy, it's just kind of speeding things up. I'm good with it."

There were 932 intentional walks last year, including 600 in the National League, where batters are walked to bring the pitcher's slot to the plate.

"You don't want to get your pitcher out of a rhythm, and when you do the intentional walk, I think you can take a pitcher out of his rhythm," Girardi said. "I've often wondered why you don't bring in your shortstop and the pitcher stand at short. Let the shortstop walk him. They're used to playing catch more like that than a pitcher is."

Agreement with the union is required for playing rules changes unless MLB gives one year advance notice, in which case it can unilaterally make alterations. Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred expressed hope Tuesday that ongoing talks would lead to an agreement on other changes but also said clubs would reserve the right to act unilaterally, consistent with the rule-change provision of the sport's labor contract.

Some changes with video review can be made unilaterally, such as shortening the time to make a challenge.

"I know they were thinking about putting in a 30-second (limit) for managers to make a decision," Francona said. "I actually wish they would. I think it would hustle it up and if we can't tell in 30 seconds, maybe we shouldn't be doing it anyway."

Bean: There's no way to spin a potential Ortiz return as a bad idea

Bean: There's no way to spin a potential Ortiz return as a bad idea

As if there weren’t enough storylines with the 2017 Red Sox, there figures to be the lingering possibility that, at any point, one of the franchise’s greatest hitters will return to make a push for his fourth World Series title.

As Pedro Martinez keeps saying, he won’t believe David Ortiz is retired until season’s end.

And with that possibility comes a good ol’ fashioned sports debate: You’re maybe the biggest lunatic in the whole wide world if you’re hoping for the latter.

There are exactly two potential downsides to Ortiz coming back. One is that the team would be worse defensively if it puts Hanley Ramirez in the field, a tradeoff that seemingly anyone would take if it meant adding Ortiz’ offense to the middle of the order. The other is that we would probably have to see Kenan Thompson’s Ortiz impression again . . . which, come to think of it, would be the worst. Actually, I might kill myself if that happens.  

All the other drawbacks are varying degrees of noise. It basically boils down to the “what if he isn’t good?” fear. Which may be valid, but it shouldn’t be reason enough to not want him to attempt a comeback.

Ortiz is coming off a 38-homer, 127-RBI 2016 in which he hit .315 with a league-best 1.021 OPS. It's probably the best final season of any hitter over the last 50 years.

We also know Ortiz is 41 and dealt with ankle and heel injuries so vast in recent years that he was “playing on stumps,” according to Red Sox coordinator of sports medicine services Dan Dyrek. There is the possibility that he was almost literally on his last legs in 2016 and that he doesn’t have another great season in him.

Unless Ortiz is medically incapable and/or not interested in returning, what would the harm be in rolling the dice? Is it a money thing? It really depends on just how intent the Sox are on staying under the luxury-tax threshold, but it’s hard to imagine that holding them up given that they’ve bobbed over and under the line throughout the years.

The one unacceptable argument is the legacy stuff, which expresses concern that Ortiz would tarnish his overall body of work if he came back for one last season and was relatively ineffective.  

If you think that five years after Ortiz is done playing, a single person will say, “Yeah, he’s a Hall of Famer; it’s just a shame he came back that for one last season,” you’re absolutely crazy. The fact that one could dwell that much on a legacy shows how much they romanticize the player, meaning that in however many years it's the 40-homer seasons, and not the potentially underwhelming few months in 2017, that will stand the test of time.

But he’ll have thrown away having one of the best final seasons ever for a hitter.

Oh man. That’s a life-ruiner right there. A 10-time All-Star and three-time World Series champion totally becomes just another guy if you take that away.

Plus, the fact that he’s a DH limits how bad it could really be. You won’t get the sight of an over-the-hill Willie Mays misplaying fly balls in the 1973 World Series after hitting .211 in the regular season. Ortiz will either be able to hit or he won’t, and if it’s the latter they’ll chalk it up to age and injuries and sit him down. Any potential decision to put him on the field in a World Series would likely mean his bat was worth it enough to get them to that point.

The Red Sox, on paper at least, have a real shot at another title. Teams in such a position should always go for broke. Ortiz has absolutely nothing left to prove, but if he thinks he has anything left to give, nobody but the fans who dropped 30-something bucks on T-shirts commemorating his retirement should have a problem with that.