FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Nothing was made official after the game, but it appears as though Steven Wright has cemented the vacant fifth starter spot in the Red Sox rotation after a strong outing against the Philadelphia Phillies Sunday.
"He certainly helped his cause today with a solid outing,'' said manager John Farrell after Wright limited the Phillies to a single run on seven hits over 5 2/3 innings int the 5-1 Red Sox victory. "I thought he did a nice job with his fastball and curveball in the early innings to get back into some counts and then got a better feel for his knuckleball as the game went along.
"But to get him over 100 pitches (103) here today, it was a good step for Steven.''
Wright has a 2.66 ERA for the spring and would seem to be the clear favorite as the Red Sox get ready for some internal meetings Monday that will go a long way in determining the makeup of the Opening Day roster.
Henry Owens and Brian Johnson have already been optioned back to Pawtucket, leaving Roenis Elias as Wright's only competition to fill the vacancy created by Eduardo Rodriguez's knee injury.
The Sox took a look at Elias out of the bullpen last week, and he was shelled on Saturday against the Orioles, giving the Red Sox pause about his suitability to pitch in relief. Of Elias's 51 appearances in the big leagues, all but two have come as a starter.
It's still conceivable that the Sox could have Elias be the fifth starter with Wright in the bullpen. But that, too, is unlikely. Either way it ends up, Wright is fine with the decision.
"I don't think they can go wrong with whoever they do decide to go in the fifth spot,'' said Wright. "But if it my spot, I'm going to go out there and try to go as deep as I can. But if I go to the bullpen, I'm going to take the same approach I do as a starter -- go out there and attack the zone and try to give our team the best chance to win.''
Wright also recognizes the fifth starter is a short-term proposition. The Sox don't need one until April 13. And if they take advantage of another off-day, they can hold off on bringing the fifth spot back until April 19.
It shouldn't be long after that Rodriguez could be ready to return.
"Let's be realistic,'' noted Wright. "Whoever gets that job, it's just a temporary thing because it's Eddie's job. And we need Eddie. If we're going to go deep into the playoffs, we need Eddie in there.''
Even knowing that Sunday represented his final audition, Wright purposefully didn't put too much pressure on himself to perform well, believing that would be counterproductive.
"That's not my job to think like that,'' he said. "I have thought like that in the past and all it does is takes away from what I can control. Stuff like that, I can't control and if I start thinking about it, it's going to affect the things I can control. I'll either try to do too much, or put more pressure on myself than I need to.
"It's definitely in the back of your mind, because it is getting down to the time when we're going to be leaving (Florida), but I don't think about it trying to impress, because if I do, I'm going to probably overthrow instead of going out there and trying to have fun and just continue to do what I've been doing all spring.''
In the meantime, Wright took the opportunity to mix in more curveballs, a relatively new pitch him.
"I didn't feel like I had the best command of the knuckleball early on,'' said Wright, "and (the curve) is a pitch that helps me get back into a count, maybe get an early strike.''
This season, he intends to throw it as often as his fastball, to give hitters a different look.
''When I have used it,'' he said, "it's not straight. It's slower than my knuckleball. To me, it's not going to impress anybody. It's just something that can be a strike. It's slower, so if they do swing, they'll be out front and hopefully they don't even swing. I'm banking that when I throw it, they're not going to swing. They're just going to see something and it's going to be a strike. But I'm definitely planning to use it a lot because it's another weapon to get me back to my knuckleball.''