Steven Wright’s 28th birthday hasn’t arrived yet, but the Red Sox’ newest knuckleball pitcher received a gift Thursday.
His mother-in-law gave him R.A. Dickey’s autobiography “Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball.”
Dickey, of course, is the star knuckleballer for the Mets. As of Friday, he led the National League with four complete games and 175 strikeouts and he was tied for the NL lead with 15 wins and two shutouts.
“I watch every single one of his outings and try to just mimic what he has been doing,” Wright said.
“Just to see what he’s doing with his knuckleball — his command with it, his ability to strike guys out and keep his walks down, holding runners.”
Boston acquired Wright from the Indians on July 31 for first baseman/outfielder Lars Anderson.
He made a start Aug. 5 for Double-A Portland, earning a victory by surrendering just one run over six innings. He then was promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket and made a start Aug. 11, giving up two runs over five innings.
The right-hander was placed on the seven-day disabled list Thursday with shoulder tightness, which Pawtucket does not consider serious.
The Sox scouted him quite a bit this season.
“He can throw a fastball and a breaking ball for a strike and the action on his knuckleball we think is major league quality,” Red Sox GM Ben Cherington said July 31.
“We’ll see. We’re taking a chance on a guy we think can be a major league starter.”
Boston took a chance April 26, 1995 when it signed then 28-year-old knuckleballer Tim Wakefield.
He had posted a 5-15 record with a 5.84 ERA in 30 games (29 starts) for Triple-A Buffalo in 1994 after a disappointing 1993 season with the Pirates.
The Sox were rewarded. Wakefield, of course, pitched with Boston until he turned 45, and won 186 games with the organization.
Will Wright be Boston’s next Wakefield? We’ll see.
He actually compares himself more to Dickey than Wakefield. Like the Mets 37-year-old, Wright throws faster than Wakefield.
Wakefield threw his knuckleball an average speed of 65.8 mph last year and 66.5 mph from 2002-11, according to fangraphs.com.
Dickey has thrown his at an average speed of 77 mph this season and 75.5 mph for his career.
“I throw mine about the same speed R.A. does,” said Wright who also mixes in a fastball, cutter and curveball.
play key role
Wright actually has received several tips from Dickey since spring training.
One day this past offseason Wright was golfing in Arizona.
He noticed another man also golfing alone and invited him to join him. The two began playing together and soon started chatting about baseball.
The man who Wright befriended happened to be former Seattle Mariners beat writer Kirby Arnold, who had covered Dickey and had stayed in contact with the knuckleballer.
Arnold connected Wright with Dickey.
“I ended up talking to (Dickey) on the phone for like an hour,” Wright said. “And we just shoot text messages back and forth.”
Wright became interested in the knuckleball at 9 years old when his pitching coach threw one to him.
“I just got intrigued on how you can throw a ball with no spin,” Wright said. “Over the years, I’ve just been messing around with it.”
But it wasn’t until 2010 when Wright threw a knuckleball in a game.
The Indians drafted him in the second round in 2006 as a right-hander who threw a 92 to 95 mph fastball.
But even with good velocity, Wright struggled in the minors.
North Andover’s Bere helps out
In 2010, he was demoted to Double-A Akron after posting a 7.59 ERA in nine relief outings for Triple-A Columbus.
One day in New Hampshire, an Akron teammate was late for a side session. Wright saw Akron’s catcher waiting alone and so he decided to throw him knuckleballs just for fun.
The catcher had difficulty catching Wright’s pitch.
Pitching coach Greg Hibbard and former big league pitcher Jason Bere, an Indians baseball operations special assistant, were there and took notice.
About a week later, Hibbard and Bere, a longtime North Andover resident, asked Wright if he was open to throwing the knuckleball as his out pitch.
“I did and from that point on I had a pretty good year,” Wright said.
The right-hander then worked with former big league knuckleballer Tom Candiotti during spring training in 2011.
“There are so many right-handed pitchers that are at 92-95 (mph) with a slider,” Wright said, adding that he needed something to separate himself from all those other pitchers.
He soon realized that something was his knuckleball.
“(At first) I didn’t think I’d be doing it full-time,” Wright said. “I thought it was going to just be an out pitch. And so it just kind of evolved into what I’ve been doing now.”
Wright also has received advice from another successful knuckleballer, Charlie Hough. And he has spoken with Wakefield since joining the Red Sox.
“He’s helped me out a lot just talking on the phone,” Wright said about Wakefield.
“The Red Sox are the team to be with because they have the patience for the pitch and they understand that if they give a guy an opportunity to grow and it works out, you get 19 years out of a guy,” Wright added.