Christian Vazquez tags out Leonys Martin.

Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports

Red Sox 6, Tigers 0: Steven Wright returns to rotation, pitches like All-Star he once was

John Tomase
June 05, 2018 - 10:19 pm

Red Sox manager Alex Cora practically rolled his eyes at the question before Tuesday's game against the Tigers: Did Steven Wright's prior struggles in wet conditions concern him on a drizzly night?

"No," Cora said with a dismissive wave. "He came in relief on a day like this and he did well. He should be fine."

Wright certainly entered the game on a roll, having allowed just nine hits in 16 innings of relief after returning from cartilage replacement surgery in his knee and a suspension for an offseason domestic incident. But Tuesday represented his first start in more than a year, and his first healthy one since the three-hit shutout against the Dodgers in August of 2016 that preceded an ill-advised pinch running appearance that started him down this long road to recovery.

For those who thought Wright would never be the same pitcher, or that he might struggle with the elements, let those concerns be dispelled. Because on Tuesday, he was masterful.

His knuckleball dancing and his fastball sneakily deployed, Wright shutout the Tigers over seven two-hit innings of a 6-0 victory. He struck out six, walked three, and after allowing the first three batters of the game to reach, permitted just two baserunners the rest of the night.

"I played behind Wake," Cora said of former Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield. "He's kind of the same way. Grab it and throw it. Either I get you or you get me. Then when we got the lead, he started throwing that fastball. That's when the at-bats started getting really tough."

He was aided by an exceptional defensive play when Nick Castellanos followed Leonys Martin's leadoff walk with a double to left-center. Andrew Benintendi cut the ball in front of center fielder Jackie Bradley, hit cutoff man Xander Bogaerts in short left, and then watched Bogaerts fire a laser to the plate that withstood a replay challenge. Martin was out and so were the Tigers. They barely threatened thereafter.

"That first inning, the first couple innings, I felt a little antsy, a little excited, nervous," Wright said. "It's been about a year and a half since I've been out there healthy throwing. Once they made that unbelievable relay in the first, I was able to kind of calm down a little bit. It was definitely nice to get back out there."

The Red Sox got all the offense they'd need, meanwhile, off the bat of J.D. Martinez, who launched his 20th homer of the year off the light tower in left-center to give the Red Sox a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first. Xander Bogaerts would add a homer of his own, into the Red Sox bullpen, while Mitch Moreland, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Eduardo Nunez contributed two hits apiece.

But the story of the night was Wright.

"It is such a long rehab, especially from the shoulder to knee surgery, you're always in there hoping that you can get back, but it is such a long surgery," Wright said. "With that type of surgery, it's unique to baseball. But that's the confidence I had not only in myself, but in the training staff. They worked tirelessly and did everything they could 
And they continue to make sure that we can go out there and perform up to our capabilities, so, yeah, I just didn't know how long it would take, but I have confidence."

Good news on Dustin Pedroia. After visiting a specialist to get another opinion on his sore knee, Pedroia was told there's nothing structurally wrong with his knee. "He just has inflammation," Cora said. "I was actually talking to him during the game. It's kind of like with David (Price). After he saw the doctor, now he said at least he can calm down and get treatment. Hopefully he'll be with us sooner rather than later. It's nothing that has to do with surgery, so that's good."