The Boston Red Sox can't help but be better this season under John Farrell, if they can just stay healthy. Last season capped a terrible run of injuries that contributed mightily to their last place finish in the AL East.
The Bosox had 27 players hit the disabled list last season, who missed a combined total of 1,495 games - even more than the Blue Jays. In 2011 it was 18 players on the DL and in 2010, 19.
Even now the Red Sox aren't 100 per cent. Mike Napoli is coming off a hip injury and is only running full out in drills and just between first and second base. Star designated hitter David Ortiz is still another week away from running, and right hander Clay Buchholz is nursing a bit of a hamstring problem and is hoping to make his first spring start on Thursday. Right hander John Lackey, who missed all of last season due to Tommy John surgery, is slowly working his way back into the rotation as well.
Concerns about the starting rotation might eventually create at opportunity for 27-year-old Steven Wright. This afternoon at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin, Wright is slated to face R.A. Dickey, who will be making his Blue Jays debut. What's interesting about this is Dickey, the last man standing as it were as far as throwing the knuckleball, will be facing a young man 11 years his junior who is trying to prove he can throw the knuckler in the same fashion as Dickey.
Cleveland drafted Wright in the second round in 2006. But he wasn't really going anywhere in the Indians system through 2009 and was starting to look like a career minor leaguer. In 2010, he figured what the heck, he might as well start tinkering with the knuckleball, something he had picked up as a nine-year-old while watching the late Frank Pastore, who once pitched with the Reds and a couple of other clubs in the Majors.
As Wright explained to Larry Mahoney of the Bangor Daily News, another former Major Leaguer, his then Double "A" pitching coach Greg Hibbard saw him throwing the knuckler in 2010 and told him he should go with it.
By 2011, Wright was working with former Blue Jays knuckleballer Tom Candiotti and was having some pretty good success.
Last season Wright went 9-6 with a 2.49 ERA at Double A Akron before he was traded to Boston just before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline for first baseman Lars Anderson. Wright made five more starts in the Red Sox organization and put up a 2.76 ERA.
There isn't much chance he will make the Bosox out of spring training. But with the Red Sox recent history of injuries you just never know. Oddly enough Wright even throws the harder version of the knuckleball, just like Dickey. In fact the two have had some contact, as knuckleballers tend to be a fairly close knit group that feeds off each other.
This will be Dickey's day in Dunedin, as the National League's Cy Young winner of 2012 make his Jays debut. But Steven Wright bears watching as well.
Matter of Record
Do Spring Training records really mean that much? Usually no, but sometimes they can be an accurate reflection of how good or how bad a team actually is.
A year ago Detroit went 20-8-5 on the Grapefruit circuit and made it to the Word Series before losing to the Giants. The Blue Jays on the other hand went 24-7-1 last season and thanks in large part to injuries, strugged to just 73 victories and a fourth place finish in the AL East. The Giants, who won the World Series, went a pedestrian 16-14-3 in the spring.
In 2011, St. Louis and Texas both played below .500 in the spring, yet went on to meet in the Fall Classic where the Redbirds prevailed.
In 2010, the Giants won the World Series after going 23-12 in the spring, They beat a Texas team that only put up a 10-19 record in March.
2009 saw the Yankees go a scorching 24-10 en route to a World Series victory. However the team they defeated, Philadelphia, only went 13-19 on the Grapefruit Circuit.
The year before in 2008, the Phils were even worse, going 12-18, yet they knocked off a Tampa Bay team that went 18-8 in the spring.
Talent, injuries and minor league depth are the key factors to consider going into a season, not a team's Grapefruit or Cactus league record.