MLB All-Star Game 2016: AL catchers ready for challenge of catching knuckleball
Steven Wright of the Red Sox might pitch to one of the two AL catcher backups
SAN DIEGO -- One of the many unlikely All-Stars this season is Red Sox starting pitcher Steven Wright. The 31-year-old Wright had only nine career big-league starts heading into the season and was only thrust into the starting rotation due to Eduardo Rodriguez injuring his knee in spring training.
All Wright's done is make it impossible for the Red Sox to remove him from the rotation. He sits 10-5 with an AL-best 2.68 ERA and three complete games. He's also a knuckleballer and those are pretty rare these days. In fact, neither of the backup AL catchers, Matt Wieters of the Orioles and Stephen Vogt of the A's, has much experience with catching them.
I asked both about it on Monday and each laughed the minute I mentioned possibly catching Wright.
"I actually have a little," Vogt said, but it's been a while. "Back in 2007, we had a guy from Argentina who had a knuckler and I caught him a little bit. I used my regular glove, I didn't have the big glove."
Wieters is a bit behind that.
"I've got about one inning," he said through laughter.
It is, however, a challenge both a ready to embrace.
"It'll be a good challenge," Vogt said. "It's something that I'll have to just adjust to on the fly."
Vogt also mentioned it was kind of a competitive thing, to have that type of a new challenge on such a big stage. He said he was eager to possibly get the chance. Wieters, too.
"It would be fun," Wieters said. "I'd sweat a lot doing it, but if you don't get nervous in this game you're probably doing the wrong thing."
"It's a new experience and you just gotta embrace it."
Speaking of new experiences, Wright being an All-Star is pretty shocking.
"I never thought I'd have the opportunity to be here. Better late than never, right?"
"It's definitely surreal," he continued. "I didn't think I was going to stay in the rotation. I was just trying to do what I've done in year's past, which is whether you're starting or relieving, you have to put your body in a position to succeed. And if they say you're starting in five days, OK. I'm going to pitch whenever you tell me to pitch. Whenever the time comes to go back to the bullpen, that's my same mentality."
The way he's pitching right now, the time to move back to the bullpen might not be for a long time. Knuckleballers tend to age pretty well, though Wright indicated he doesn't plan on playing into his 40s because he wants to raise his kids.
As for the AL catchers tasked with receiving his knuckleballs, Wright has confidence in them.
"I think they'll be fine," he said. "It's just like anything else, if you're going into a job you've never done before, you're going to be nervous and not many of us throw knuckleballs any more. The All-Star catchers are great catchers, but it's just the unknown. I think they'll be fine.
It's a confluence of fun storylines here. Wright is one of the happiest people in San Diego, throws a knuckler for the Red Sox (Tim Wakefield!) and could be throwing to some catchers who laughed when asked about having to catch him. Maybe it'll create some drama in Tuesday's All-Star Game.
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