Adjustment helps Wright make knuckler dance

Adjustment helps Wright make knuckler dance

BOSTON -- Five days removed from the worst start of his career, it was hardly comforting for Steven Wright or the Red Sox when his knuckleball was flat in the early going of Monday's outing against the Rays.

But Wright made an in-game adjustment and found the mechanics necessary to make his signature pitch dance like it is supposed to, and he helped lead the Red Sox to a 4-3 win in the annual Patriots' Day game at Fenway Park.

After giving up two runs on three hits in the first and a double to open the second, Wright righted himself in a big way, buckling down for the rest of the day to go six-plus innings while allowing nine hits and three runs (one earned) with a walk and four strikeouts.

"It looked like he didn't have very good command of his knuckleball early. Then he started throwing it more for strikes and it started dancing a little bit more," said Rays right fielder Steven Souza Jr. "It was pretty straight early. It can turn like that with knuckleballers, honestly."

Unlike the mighty struggles vs. the Orioles on Tuesday -- 1 1/3 innings, eight runs, four homers -- this was something to build on for Wright.

"I thought he was kind of leaking out a little bit where you saw a number of knuckleballs that were up, with a lack of depth to them," said Red Sox manager John Farrell. "So he made a subtle adjustment and he made a couple of big pitches with men in scoring position.

"Today was the first day you saw Steven have the normal effort and intensity or aggression in his delivery and still able to command the baseball. Today was certainly a positive step for him, even after the first inning today. So hopefully this is one that he can build upon from here."

In the days leading up to the start, Wright spent a lot of time with resident Red Sox knuckleball guru Tim Wakefield.

"I worked a lot. I was blessed that Wake happened to be here this week, so I definitely was talking to him constantly over the last four or five days, just trying to bounce some things off of him," said Wright. "Just trying to get back to that rhythm and timing that I had last year. He's helped me tremendously."

What were the key talking points with Wakefield?

"It's never easy to narrow it down to one," said Wright. "A lot of it is just timing and balance and staying over that back side. I definitely get in the habit of rushing forward too much and the ball starts spinning and stays up. It doesn't get the opportunity to go down. We've just really been concentrating on staying over the rubber and finding that rhythm and tempo."

It's understandable why Wright would come into this season in a mechanical funk, given that a right shoulder injury limited him to just two starts the final two months of last season.

For a refresher course of what kind of weapon Wright can be for the Red Sox when he is in a groove, look at his sparkling first half of 2016, when he went 10-5 with a 2.68 ERA and was an All-Star.

"It's all feel," said Wright. "It is just finding that feel and repeating it. For me, it's just really concentrating on finishing the pitch. The ball is going to follow your hand. I still have some work to do. I don't feel like I threw the ball as well as I know I can. It's definitely a good step in the right direction."

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.