J.D. Martin began his baseball career with the Cleveland Indians in 2001. He made his major league debut in 2009. But 2010 was last season in the majors. He has played every year since, but always in the minor league.
That’s not enough for Martin. He wants to get back in the big leagues, and he figures that specializing in the knuckleball will improve his chances. A. Stacy Long reports that he
is that seemingly rare sight in the minor leagues, that endangered species that… is looked upon as a bare-knuckled, sharp-nailed novelty.
Martin is a knuckleballer.
The right-hander found success as a “normal” pitcher, just not enough to stay in the major leagues, and is trying to make it back with his own no-spin zone.
He’s in his third year in the attempt, which involves a complete overhaul of his past approach and a massive infusion of patience.
“It was harder to learn than I anticipated,” Martin said. “Just trying to stay consistent with my mechanics is tough.”
It was a Nationals coach named Spin Williams who suggested a few years back that Martin consider the knuckleball. At the time he wasn’t quite open to the idea. “I could understand if I wasn’t pitching well, but I was.” But in 2016 he took another look at the idea.
As sports writer Ken Rosenthal recently tweeted, Martin, “who last pitched in majors in 2010, has signed minor-league deal with #Rays. Will be throwing knuckleball and working with [former major-league knuckleballer] Charlie Haeger to further develop pitch.” In recent years the Rays have been giving other knuckleballers a try, including Dan Johnson and Eddie Gamboa (neither currently still with the organization).
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The question on a reddit.com thread is why don’t “regular” pitchers have a knuckleball in their repertoire, just like any other pitch they rely on? “Great question,” says JohnEKaye. “I would love to see someone mix it in randomly 2-3 times a game. It’s probably because you have to throw a million of them to ever be confident enough to use it in game, and that would take away from your ‘real’ pitch work?” This is on the track, although we occasionally hear of “regular” pitchers who have a good knuckleball and use it to apparently good effect. We do think that to pitch knuckleballs on the level of a Wakefield or a Dickey, the knuckleball cannot be a part-time pitch, cannot be just one more albeit outré option in the repertoire.