BOSTON — Knuckleball pitchers don’t come around very often, but there’s a good reason the Red Sox have had two pretty notable ones on the mound.
Wednesday’s 9-4 win over the Atlanta Braves marked knuckleballer Steven Wright’s fourth straight quality start this season after an outing that saw him allow two runs (one earned) on just three hits with eight strikeouts and three walks over seven innings. Wright has even allowed two runs or fewer in eight straight starts dating back to July, 25, 2015, which is the longest active streak among American League starters.
But not every team wants to give knuckleballers a chance, and not every pitcher wants to try to throw one.
“It’s not the arms,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said Wednesday about why we don’t see more knuckleball pitchers. “It’s the mastery or endless pursuit to execute that pitch. … And then I think you need an organization that embraces it. Tim Wakefield certainly has paved the way for Steven Wright to continue to provide opportunities. … It’s a unique pitch, we know, but the bottom line numbers are undeniable.”
Knuckleballers also can’t really control where their own pitches go, as Wright attested to Wednesday, so they need to have a skilled catcher they can trust. And Wright said Ryan Hanigan has been that for him.
“I threw to (Hanigan) one time last year and then the times I’ve thrown this year, and so I feel like every time we go out, he gets more and more comfortable,” Wright said. “It especially showed a lot (Wednesday night) because (the knuckleball) was moving a lot more than it has in the last couple starts, so for him to be able to knock those balls down is awesome. I can’t give enough credit to him and what he’s done to get better the last couple games back there.”
Here are some more notes from Wednesday’s win.
— The Red Sox have greatly improved on both sides of the ball after a bit of a rough start to the season. They’ve scored in the first inning in seven of their last eight games (20 runs total) after being outscored 9-0 in the first inning through April 10.
As for the starting pitchers, they have eight quality starts in their last 12 outings, good for a 6-2 record and 3.44 team ERA, after recording just two quality starts in their first eight games.
— David Ortiz had a triple-double night, going 3-for-5 with, you guessed it, three doubles. That brought his career extra-base hits total to 1,119, which passed Ted Williams and Jimmie Foxx to tie George Brett for 16th on the all-time list. He’s also 16th all-time with 595 doubles, passing Todd Helton.
Not bad company.
— Dustin Pedroia’s grand slam and solo home run gave him his seventh career multi-homer game. His grand slam was an opposite field one off Pesky’s Pole, something Pedroia isn’t really used to.
“I hit it hard, so I didn’t really know — I’ve never hit one off the pole, so I didn’t really know what the heck was going to go on,” Pedroia said. “So I’m glad it hit it.”
— Reliever Carson Smith was back in the Red Sox’s clubhouse Wednesday before he goes to Double-A Portland to pitch in games Friday and Saturday. Smith said he’s feeling great and had been itching to leave Fort Myers.
“It’s great,” Smith said of being back. “I’ve been watching these guys on TV for the last month, so it’s been tough watching down there in Florida sometimes, just wanting to be a part of it, but it’s good to be around the guys, see everybody, and good to be back in Boston.”
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images