Knuckleball Pitchers and Catchers Try and Try Again

Tyler FlowersAtlanta Braves catcher Tyler Flowers isn’t too worried about embarrassing himself as a knuckleball catcher, even though he and Kurt Suzuki now have knuckleball pitcher R.A. Dickey to contend with. MLB.com’s Mark Bowman says both are “adapting to knuckleball,” and Braves manager Brian Snitker is ready to split knuckleball-catching duty between both men.

Dickey has repeatedly said he has found that those catchers who are committed to putting in the necessary preparations to handle his knuckleball have been successful.

“I think the guys that have the mentality of wanting to do it are going to do it well,” Dickey said. “It’s the guys who don’t have a clear frame of mind or don’t want to be embarrassed, those are the guys who are going to have trouble. We’ve got a good group here.”

Flowers playfully responded to this job description in a self-deprecating manner.

“I’ve been embarrassed enough in my career, so this isn’t going to be any different,” Flowers said. “I’ve had to go get plenty of balls at the backstop, so I don’t have any issue with looking bad here and there.”

To succeed at anything difficult or risky, one must be able to transcend or at least slog through fear of failure and embarrassment. As the magician and sage Penn Jillette puts it, if he were trying to avoid embarrassment, he would never have gone into show business or “stumbled my way through ‘Dancing with the Stars.’ ”

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Judging by his recent performance and spirits, Red Sox knuckleball pitcher Steven Wright’s shoulder is apparently  right on track, says Brian MacPherson, reporting on how Wright did on Monday.

“I have to be able to repeat my delivery flawlessly, almost,” [Wright] said. “Here I am trying to throw a 73-mile-an-hour pitch with no spin. If I can do that right, it can be effective. If I do it wrong, it’s batting practice.”

Wright was effective in two innings against Toronto on Monday at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, his first start of spring training. He threw 16 of his 21 pitches for strikes and didn’t allow a hit. The only Blue Jays hitter who reached base against him did so on a Brock Holt fielding error. He threw 18 more pitches on the side after he came out of the game.

That Wright got started so late in spring training leaves him with time only to make five starts before the regular season begins. The last of the starts is scheduled for April 2, the day before the Red Sox host the Pittsburgh Pirates at Fenway Park. That would line him up to make his first regular-season start on April 7 in Detroit, albeit with a shorter leash than a starter who has made six starts in Florida….

“I felt like I was able to stay under control,” he said. “I wasn’t thinking, ‘Is my shoulder strong? Is my body strong? Are my mechanics right?’ All of that, we’ve been working nonstop since August to get everything ready for this day.”

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Knuckleball pitcher Eddie Gamboa of the Texas Rangers is also getting back on track, according to the Star-Telegram’s Stefan Stevenson.

Eddie Gamboa Texas RangerAfter walking three in his last start (and allowing three unearned runs) Gamboa wanted to rectify that in his third spring outing.

For the most part, he did just that. He allowed three runs on eight hits, including two doubles and a homer, over four innings. He walked none and struck out three. The A’s jumped on him with four hits, including a two-run homer by Ryon Healy in the first inning. Another run scored on consecutive doubles by Healy and Khris Davis in the third. Two of the eight hits were infield singles.

“The big thing was to try to make competitive pitches and I think I was fortunate to do that,” said Gamboa, who has allowed three earned runs in eight innings this spring. “I gave up a lot of hits but I’ll take hits over walks any day. Having them put the ball in play and having them in swing mode as a knuckleballer that’s what I want to do.”

Gamboa worked mostly with his knuckleball, varying the velocity but staying close to the zone. He threw about 15 percent fastballs.

“I don’t want [my defense] to fall asleep. I used to play infield and I know the feeling so you don’t want to be that guy on the mound, especially with the knuckleball,” he said. “I threw way too many balls my last outing so to go in there and just pound the strike zone, I feel a lot better. Hopefully we can build on that.”

You will, Eddie Gamboa.

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