How much of a knuckleball pitcher must you be in order to be a knuckleball pitcher—if not for purposes of definition, at least for purposes of making it to the MLB?
Knuckleballers like Tim Wakefield, R.A. Dickey and others used the knuckleball to advance their careers by making it their dominant pitch. But according to Kristen Bentley, with his eye on “Detroit Tigers Prospect #17: Josh Turley the Knuckleballer,” what makes Turley an effective pitcher
is the fact that he mixes up his pitches. The lefty throws a fastball, cutter, change-up, and curve. In 2014, he developed a knuckleball as a fun pitch in a game of catch. Much to his surprise, he found that he could throw it effectively. His fastball rarely gets above 90 mph, but when he mixes in the knuckleball he gets swings and misses from opposing batters….
One of his biggest successes in the minor leagues was a nearly no-hitter he had on July 4, 2014. By the time he reached the Independence Day game, he was 7-0 with a 1.69 ERA. He went into the seventh inning with a no-hitter against the minor league Class-A Advanced Yankees. The game went into 12 innings with the Yankees winning. Turley had eight strikeouts, three walks, and two hits in the seventh. Even though the team lost, Turley’s pitching was outstanding.
According to an MILB.com report on the July 4, 2014 game that Bentley is referring to, Turley’s initial deployment of his no-longer-so-secret weapon came as a shock.
“Throughout the season, I’ve gotten some interesting looks and reactions on some faces. A look of surprise, shock,” he said with a laugh. “It’s just not too often you see someone mixing it in. And that adds to the effectiveness.”
A knuckleball. And no, Turley isn’t your typical knuckleballer—he’s just a three-year Minor League veteran trying to get an edge on his opponents. So far, at 7-0 with a 1.69 ERA, he appears to know what he’s doing.
“I bet by now it’s in the scouting reports,” he said, “but I think that just adds to it, and I’m seeing more success with my other pitches as well.”
Turley, sporadically mixing in his knuckleball, kept Tampa off-balance all day in taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning. He matched up in a pitchers’ duel with Miguel Sulbaran, though, as the Class A Advanced Yankees edged the Flying Tigers, 1-0, in 12 innings on Friday….
Unless it’s a custom create-a-player in a video game, it’s rare to see what is an otherwise typical starting pitcher sprinkle in a knuckleball alongside a fastball and cutter, but that’s what Turley has managed to do. It’s a pitch that, at the very least, catches almost everyone off-guard.
So, so far so good with the part-of-a-mix approach, then. Maybe that will change if and when the other pitches become physically harder to sustain, and the virtues of throwing the knuckleball a lot more often become more manifest—some years later in his career.
But maybe sooner. According to an April 2015 Detroit News report by Lynn Henning, pitching coach Mike Henneman, who had been watch Turley’s knuckleball progress, and others “say the knuckler is his big-league pass” and “would urge him to throw it more often.”