How I Met Your Aeros: Steven Wright
When I asked Akron Aeros starting pitcher Steven Wright if we can start calling him the next Tim Wakefield before Thursday night’s game against the Bowie Baysox, he answered “I hope so. That’d be good.” The way Wright and his knuckleball have been dominating AA-hitters this year, it may be time to start taking the comparison seriously.
Before the season, there wasn’t much reason to expect much out of Wright. Despite being a 2nd round draft pick in 2006, he was entering his age-27 season and was coming off being ranked as the 82nd best prospect in the entire Indians system before this year and 97th before 2011 by IPI. A ranking that low in consecutive years doesn’t show much of a Major League future, but Wright has turned that upside down in 2012.
In 8 starts this year, Wright owns a 3-2 record, a sterling 1.75 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, and very good peripherals (3.03 FIP, 8.16 SO/9). Most importantly, Wright has really started to master his knuckleball, a pitch that he’s been throwing almost his entire life.
Wright used to just fool around with his knuckleball and leave it at that, but in 2010 he started using it in game situations. “I just started throwing it as a hit and miss pitch,” Wright said. “Then last year, 2011 Spring Training, I started working with [Tom] Candiotti and he said I should just start throwing it.”
The addition of the knuckleball in 2011 didn’t hold a breakout season for Wright. He struggled to a 4-8 record, 4.58 ERA, 1.61 WHIP, 4.6 BB/9 and meager 6.5 SO/9 in 133.2 innings between Lake County, Kinston, Akron, and Columbus, but the seeds of success were being planted.
There haven’t been any magic tricks for Wright in 2012. "[It’s] just stuff that I did with Charlie Hough: just trying to continue doing that stuff. Kill the spin.” In addition, Wright compliments his knuckleball with a cutter that still hits 90 MPH on occasion, a sinker, and a curveball.
Nothing has managed to derail this season for Wright; not even a broken toe. He missed 11 games with the injury after he “felt it snap,” but Wright says “it’s a lot better now. It still hurts, but I’ve got a special insole that helps me and keeps the pain down.”
Talking with Wright, you get the sense it’s all about what you can and can’t control with him. In his words, you can’t control the knuckleball, what level you’re pitching at, or whether you are pitching as a starter or a reliever, but you can control how hard you work and what you do with the opportunities you’re given.
I asked if he was ready for a callup to Columbus, and he said “it’s one of those things. You don’t really know if you’re ready until you get there. I just try to stay here and do what I got to do and whenever that opportunity comes then hopefully I am ready.”
Wright may or may not succeed in Columbus this year and may or may not be a viable option for the big league club by the end of the year. There’s still a chance Wright could end up a starter instead of transitioning to the bullpen, but despite all the uncertainty, there’s one thing that Wright knows for sure:
“When they tell me when to pitch, that’s when I go out and pitch.”
It’s as simple as that.
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