12:23 PM ET
BOSTON — Six weeks into a Boston Red Sox season, one that grows more promising by the day, there isn’t a less likely success story than Steven Wright.
A second-round draft pick of the Cleveland Indians in 2006, Wright was taught to throw a knuckleball five years later in a last-ditch attempt to salvage a career that had stalled in Triple-A. He was traded to the Red Sox in 2012 and nearly retired the following winter. He finally made his major-league debut in 2013 at age 28. After bouncing between Triple-A and the majors for three seasons, he claimed a spot in the starting rotation out of spring training only because young left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez injured his knee in late February.
Yet when Wright makes his seventh start of the season Friday night at Fenway Park against the Houston Astros, he will have a 1.52 ERA, third-best in the American League behind only the Chicago White Sox’s Jose Quintana (1.38) and Detroit Tigers’ Jordan Zimmermann (1.50).
Nobody could have seen that coming.
Well, except maybe Tom Candiotti.
“What he’s doing, I think it’s awesome,” said Candiotti, who won 151 games as a knuckleballer in 16 seasons with five teams. “It was kind of a slow progression, but to me, it was only a matter of him getting consistent reps before he was able to start doing what he’s doing right now.”
Candiotti, now a radio analyst for the Arizona Diamondbacks, ought to know. He was one of the first people to see Wright throw the unpredictable pitch that so few have been able to control.
It was the spring of 2011, and Wright was coming off a season in which he posted a 4.78 ERA between Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus. After a couple of coaches saw him fooling around with a knuckleball, the Indians decided to have him experiment with the pitch more seriously. Then-Indians team president Mark Shapiro asked his old friend Candiotti to watch Wright throw a bullpen session, one that drew the attention of most top decision-makers and pitching coaches in the organization.
“He started throwing his knuckleball, and it was phenomenal,” Candiotti recalled in a phone interview. “It was a hard knuckleball, harder than R.A. Dickey’s. I’m like, ‘Holy cow!’ You hear about the ones that are unhittable. This was uncatchable. It was that good that day.
“I said to Mark, ‘That’s probably the best knuckleball I’ve ever seen.’ I think his jaw dropped. He goes, ‘What?’ I said, ‘He just needs time to learn how to pitch with …
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