Steven Wright (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)
DUNEDIN, Fla. — With Steven Wright on the mound for the first time this Grapefruit League season, Monday seemed like a good time to broach the topic.
After what happened last season with the knuckleballer, would Farrell hesitate pinch-running a pitcher this season?
“No, not at all,” the Red Sox manager told WEEI.com when asked if he would change his approach toward using a pitcher on the basepaths. “It was an unfortunate situation that cost him pretty much the remainder of the year. In a National League situation, we’ll look to do the same again.”
The “unfortunate situation” Farrell referenced was, of course, occurred when Wright’s season, for all intent and purposes, was brought to a screeching halt after jamming his shoulder diving back to second base on a fake pickoff move by Dodgers pitcher Joe Blanton.
Wright was pinch-running for David Ortiz, who the Red Sox were prioritizing getting off his feet during the three-game set in Los Angeles. The hurler had also made his start two days earlier.
“In National League rules? Yes,” said Farrell when asked about taking the same approach. “It was an unfortunate incident. But I felt confident in Steven’s ability to do what we asked and that was because of the time we spend in spring training on baserunning.”
So, why isn’t Farrell flinching when digging in on his approach? Talking to the Red Sox manager prior to Monday’s game, it is clear: they practice it, they preach it, with every intention of doing it. Before Wright, it was Drake Britton in 2013, and before him it was Clay Buchholz in 2009.
Farrell pointed out that every spring training the pitchers spend numerous days working out as baserunners, with rules and regulations being distributed at every turn.
“The most succinct way to describe it is to not draw attention to yourself,” he explained. “In other words, don’t get off with a big lead. There’s a reason why you’re out there and that is to give the person off their feet because either they are hampered or restricted in some way. Unfortunately in this case, [Wright] had a big lead.
“Don’t draw attention to yourself. It’s a conservative lead and a conservative secondary lead, and even with that approach you’re better than who might have been on the base paths, otherwise you wouldn’t be out there.”
Since 2010, American League pitchers have pinch-run 38 times, with Toronto’s Marcus Stroman having been called on for duty six times. In the last two seasons, only Wright and Toronto’s Drew Hutchison have gotten the opportunity.
Ironically, the American League manager who has implemented the strategy the most over the past few seasons, Toronto’s John Gibbons, insinuated he is done with the practice.
For Gibbons, his wake-up call came when Stroman slid head-first into home plate in a 2014 game against the Red Sox.
“I thought about it after the game and thought, ‘This might not be too smart.’ I wouldn’t do it again. Maybe your long man in the bullpen. There’s too much risk,” Gibbons said. “He didn’t get hurt or banged up at all, but I just thought this probably wasn’t that smart. If something happened it could cost his career and cost us. It’s tough because you’re in the moment, you want to win and there was nobody on the bench.”
But Gibbons did try it out one more time after Stroman, except this time it was with Hutchison in the same environment Farrell deems the strategy acceptable, against a National League team.
“The structure we put together is to educate as best possible, realizing an American League pitcher on the base paths is going to be a foreign scenario,” Farrell said. “We know that going in. But what we try and do is make sure they don’t draw attention to themselves.”