PAWTUCKET — As a knuckleball pitcher, Steven Wright can get loose in a hurry.
As a 29-year-old man who is three months removed from undergoing surgery to repair a sports hernia, the importance of taking things slow and steady cannot be understated.
From his vantage point, Wright earnestly believes that he’s thriving on this unconventional and demanding comeback trail. The Red Sox right-hander is not rehabbing a bum shoulder or a tender elbow. In effect, he had to re-train the muscles in the lower half of his body following a lengthy stretch of inactivity.
“It’s not the throwing. It’s about getting the body ready so I can compete and throw 100 pitches a game,” said Wright from Fort Myers, Fla. earlier this week. “I had to train my muscles how to work again. That’s something I’m still working on as far as strengthening the lower abs. I went so long without using them that now that they’re healed, it’s about getting them strong again so when I do eventually start getting in games, I don’t to worry about it tearing it again.”
An important step forward in Wright’s quest to resume his butterfly-specialist duties in a competitive environment came this past Tuesday. Facing a collection of Tampa Bay hitters under extended spring training conditions, Wright tossed 22 pitches in one inning.
“The results were pretty good and went better than I thought it would. I threw a lot of strikes and the knuckleball came out better than I expected,” was the recap he offered. “I think right now it’s a matter of building up arm strength and getting my pitching legs back underneath me. The sitting down and getting up, I think that’s the biggest obstacle at the moment.”
On Saturday, Wright will throw two innings in extended spring action. After that, it’s unknown what the next course of action will encompass.
“I’ll see if I stay down here to get the pitch count up, but I really don’t know,” Wright expressed. “I’m just trying to get through Saturday.”
Prior to the surgery, Wright seemed ticketed to start the year in the PawSox rotation and be included on the list of potential call-ups to the majors in the event of an emergency. His shining moment with the 2013 Red Sox came July 11 at Seattle when he flummoxed Seattle with 5.2 shutout innings in relief of Ryan Dempster.
All told, Wright won two of his four appearances with Boston. A member of Pawtucket’s 2012 Governors’ Cup winner, he fashioned an 8-7 record in 24 starts for the PawSox last season while posting a 3.46 ERA.
Early last month, Wright’s spot on the 40-man roster went to current PawSox infielder Ryan Roberts after Boston opted to transfer the player that was acquired for onetime first base prospect Lars Anderson to the 60-day disabled list.
By that time, Wright was in the midst of a throwing program. He received such clearance four weeks after getting operated upon on Feb. 10.
Given the turbulent stretch Wright endured, picking up a baseball never felt so good.
A few days before Christmas, Wright began experiencing excruciating pain. It didn’t affect his throwing, but rather when he performed agility exercises.
“Doing a lunge, that’s when I knew something was wrong. I felt like someone stabbed me,” Wright described. “I knew it wasn’t a normal muscle pull. It was very discomforting. I thought it was going to get better, but it never did.”
Wright phoned PawSox trainer Jon Jochim to see if it was possible to pinpoint what exactly was ailing him.
“It was right around Christmas time, so that put a damper on getting to a doctor quick,” he said. “I did get checked for a hernia, which it wasn’t. You hope it goes away, but I ended up getting a MRI. It never got worse, but it never got better.”
On the morning of the Boston Baseball Dinner on Jan. 23 is when the moment of clarity finally arrived. Diagnosed with a sports hernia mere hours before he would officially receive the Lou Gorman Award, Wright appeared at Pawtucket’s Hot Stove event that weekend before flying home to California.
He didn’t remain there long. Wright returned to Boston for “some kind of shot.” After the shot, he rehabbed at Fenway Park for 10-12 days.
In the end, the inevitable could no longer be delayed.
“It still wasn’t getting any better, and that’s when they decided to go ahead and do surgery,” said Wright.
Baby steps were taken following the procedure.
“The first 7-10 days, I hung around the hotel, saw the doctor. Walking was a chore,” Wright recalled.
Wright’s next hurdle to clear came shortly after he succeeded in mustering enough strength to fly to JetBlue Park. One lap around the complex gave way to two laps before he eventually got up to six. Before he knew it, Wright had progressed up to running.
The diagnosis given to Wright called for the stitches to become solid without having to worry about re-aggravating it in 6-8 weeks post surgery.
“It (the timetable) was actually longer than I anticipated, but it’s one of those things where you don’t want to rush it because if you hurt it again, than you will be out for some time,” Wright said.
Staying true to the preventative measures prescribed to him has enabled Wright to avoid a setback. Granted he likely has a few more items that need to be checked off the to-do list before he can officially bid adieu to Fort Myers, though it figures to be interesting what the Red Sox elect to do with him upon assigning him to Pawtucket.
With all five spots in the Triple-A rotation occupied by hard-throwing 20-somethings, Wright could end up reassigned to the bullpen. Of course when you’re talking about life in the minors and particularly with the PawSox, a starting spot could very well be available for Wright upon receiving proper clearance.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03