The Red Sox’ yearlong rotation struggles received a reprieve on Wednesday night, an eight-inning effort from Steven Wright that ranked as one of the team’s best all year.
Wright became the first Red Sox pitcher in 10 years to throw eight or more innings while yielding one or no runs and punching out at least nine batters on the road against the Yankees. The last to do it? Appropriately enough, Tim Wakefield, in a memorable 1-0 loss to Randy Johnson in 2005. The last pitcher to hit those marks in a win in Yankee Stadium was Pedro Martinez in 2000, when he outdueled Roger Clemens in a 2-0 win.
It was a brilliant effort for a team that’s experienced a dearth of them in 2015. The Red Sox rotation has a collective 4.90 ERA this year, easily the worst in the American League, and one that signals a mandate for change this offseason (even if the bullpen may be the more challenging mess for the team, as I explore in a look at the state of Red Sox pitching).
The missteps of the last 371 days – the acquisitions of Joe Kelly, Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, and Justin Masterson, with only Miley performing close to expectations – are the natural target. Yet the impetus for the acquisition of those players is an even more significant issue.
Brian MacPherson, in the third and final part of the Providence Journal’s excellent three-part series on the team-building breakdowns that have led the Red Sox to this nadir, notes that the Red Sox stand almost alone (the Blue Jays have been considerate enough to join them) in their inability to develop a young starting pitcher with staying power in the rotation over the last eight years.
It’s fair to quibble and suggest that Felix Doubront was an important contributor in 2013, but the broader point remains: The Sox have been propelled into the market time and again because they haven’t had a young pitcher ready to step in. A failure to change course on that front likely will subject the team to further volatility or outright failures.
What the team sees from Henry Owens down the stretch thus becomes critical to a more level road going forward, and there remains a chance that Brian Johnson (elbow) could return and position himself as part of the long-term answer.
While those two will command the lion’s share of attention as the team’s most highly regarded pitching prospects, Wright – still a rookie – shouldn’t be ignored. Despite his understated personality, he’s well-versed in the Outwit, Outlast, Outplay phenomenon. The 30-year-old is the only man standing from last season’s audition that included Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa, Brandon Workman, and Anthony Ranaudo, and at this point, he’s established himself as a competitor who is unafraid to throw strikes and compete.
In an organization that can leave no stone unturned to reverse its pitching misfortunes, there is something fitting about looking at a knuckleballer as part of an unconventional solution to a problem that has reached unconventional depths.