02/24/11 2:06 PM ET
Astros' lefty specialist role could fit Wright
By Brian McTaggart / MLB.com
"I think this is a very important spring for me," he readily admits.
Wright still has the appearance of being much younger than his 26 years, but he recently got married and is in his fourth Major League camp with the Astros, who took a flier on the left-hander in the 2007 Rule 5 Draft. He's certainly matured before everyone's eyes in life and is ready to take the next step in baseball, too.
The Astros have ditched the idea of making him a starter and have said Wright is among four players battling for the left-handed specialist role in the bullpen (Fernando Abad, Sergio Escalona, Gustavo Chacin). Manager Brad Mills would love to have more than one lefty, and Wright hopes he forces Mills to give him a spot when camp breaks next month.
"This offseason I really wanted to rededicate myself to coming and being ready and just show what I'm really capable of," Wright said. "The last couple of years have been up and down, and I'm ready to get back on a good stretch and show people really what I have. They got a glimpse of it in '08, and I haven't been where I'd like to be the last couple of years, but hopefully this will be the year I'm able to get back on track."
2010 Spring Training - Houston Astros
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Sights & Sounds
Spring Training Info
The past two years have indeed been up and down for Wright, who has been shuttled between Triple-A Round Rock and Houston a whopping 14 times after spending the entire 2008 season on the Major League roster. He was 4-1 with a 4.65 ERA in 15 games (14 starts) at Round Rock in 2010 and 1-2 with a 5.73 ERA in 14 games (four starts) with the Astros.
Astros general manager Ed Wade said the club has scrapped the idea of making Wright a starter.
"We feel with the competition we have going on right now [for the fifth spot in the rotation] and the guys that are stretched out and in position to assume more of the longer innings, Wright's probably in the bullpen at this stage," he said.
That's good news for Wright, who will be able to use his complete arsenal and attack hitters more if he's pitching in shorter stints.
"I look back on the [starting] experience with fond memories," he said. "Compared to trying to get through six or seven innings, it's a totally different experience. I was able to single my focus in on a batter or an inning, and it just made the game slow a lot for me."
Wright went 4-3 with a 5.01 ERA in 71 games as a rookie with the Astros in 2008. He led all Major League rookie pitchers in appearances that year and held left-handed hitters to a .207 batting average. He bounced between Round Rock and Houston in 2009 and battled health problems, going on the disabled list late in the year with a shoulder strain and -- perhaps more memorable -- being carted from Wrigley Field on a stretcher in July because of dehydration.
Last year was the first season since his rookie debut that he wasn't on the Opening Day roster, and Wright wants to get back to what he was doing so well in 2008, which was simplifying the game.
"I think a lot of times everybody goes through when you have a good year and you try to do more and be better than the year before," he said. "Now I'm just going to be myself and take it one day at a time and do what I can to help the team."
Wade has reminded Wright more than once to not overthink things.
"He's a guy with a lot of ability," Wade said. "We like his stuff and he has four good pitches. He just has to get his sign and make his pitch. His rookie year, he did that. He threw his pitches. The last couple of years he's got more analytical and thought things through and probably at this stage it makes sense to simplify things because he does have a good arm and he's shown that at the big league level."
When he looks around the clubhouse and assesses his chances of making the team, Wright said the ability to get left-handers out will be paramount when Grapefruit League play begins.
"You ask any left-handed reliever, and that should be their main focus," Wright said. "Now the way the game is specialized, your opponents' batting average against lefties is very, very important. Most teams feel they should be able to get righties out and you need to the lefties to be able to come in and get lefties out, especially in this division.
"You have a lot of big lefties [Prince Fielder, Carlos Pena, Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Lance Berkman, among others] that you're going to be facing on a regular basis. Lefties are my main priority, especially when I'm throwing my bullpens and trying to make sure I have the pitches read to get those key outs."
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.