Knuckler R.A. Dickey Is Also on the Ball Lately

Rangers versus Blue Jays May 13 2016Things have gone well recently for the two regular MLB knuckleball pitchers. Steven Wright was our subject in our last couple of posts (here and here). Now back to Dickey. No doubt he is glad to be eliciting reportage like the following about last Friday’s Toronto Blue Jays v. Texas Rangers game, from Mr. RotoWire Staff at CBSSports.com:

Dickey (2-4) pitched eight innings of three-hit, shutout ball while walking one in Friday’s 5-0 victory over the Rangers. He struck out six.

The veteran knuckleballer put together his third straight quality start, consistently flummoxing the potent Rangers lineup. Dickey induced 14 swings-and-misses, as he had his trademark pitch working in vintage fashion. The six whiffs were the most for Dickey since he’d recorded a season-high nine versus the Red Sox on April 9, and the three hits were the lowest that he’d allowed in a start all season. With his most recent trio of solid appearances, the 41-year-old has lowered his ERA from 6.75 to 4.31.

Or how about this, from Joseph Ursery of WFAA, commenting on the veteran’s performance in the same May 13 game:

In Friday’s opener the Rangers were almost completely handcuffed by R.A. Dickey, because when a knuckleballer is on, it’s magic. I honestly can’t even be mad, because R.A. Dickey is one of my favorite human beings to hear speak and watch play baseball, and even if he wears a uniform we have beef with, you have to be happy for him.

That’s from a fan rooting for the other side. (Unfortunately, such good will is overshadowed by the kind of nonsense that occurred during Sunday’s Jays-Rangers contest, when the last game of a series between the two arch-enemy teams devolved into a brawl. You can read details and opinion about the fracas here and here, if you missed all the excitement.)

It’s not easy to throw the knuckleball. One must in effect keep retraining oneself. Dickey is patient. He has often said, during his less satisfactory stints on the mound, that he must just keep on going, keep on working on his approach and accepting the ways of the knuckleball until he can find a way to get back in the groove. And he does.

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The New York Times has a good profile about knuckleballer Dan Johnson, who has run into some obstacles to his conversion to full-time knuckleballer, including every knuckleballer’s worst nightmare, fingernail trouble.

In 2013, when Johnson played for the Yankees’ Class AAA team, a coach, Gil Patterson, said he had heard of Johnson’s trick and asked him to test it in the bullpen. Encouraged, Johnson hoped to show off the pitch to his next team, the Toronto Blue Jays, the next spring. Then he pulled on a stray cord wrapped around a stack of weights just before reporting.

“Of course I smash my knuckleball finger and my nail falls off,” Johnson said, referring to his index finger. “I show up to spring training and they want me to do it, and I can’t because I don’t have a fingernail yet.”

Johnson, a right-hander, did collect pointers on the knuckleball from the Blue Jays’ R. A. Dickey, and now he is putting some to use. He is learning to keep his pitching arm from pulling past his lead leg when he releases the pitch. A knuckleballer should try to come straight down in his follow-through, Johnson said, to kill spin.

Broken fingernails are one kind of problem. A different kind that Johnson and other would-be knuckleballers face, according to the article, is that so few coaches know how to teach the knuckleball.

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