Throwing and Catching the Knuckleball: Gamboa, Thole

Eddie Gamboa Holding the BallIs Eddie Gamboa a true-blue knuckleballer? And must he knuckle down with the knuckleball to enjoy the best chances of success?

Gamboa isn’t a “pure” knuckleballer, opines Orioles Insider Rich Dubroff.

He throws the knuckler about half the time, and the other half throws his other three pitches: fastball, cutter and changeup.

“I’m just trying to feel it out and see what’s more comfortable, to go out there into a game and see what I’m going to have more success with,” Gamboa said.

The 30-year-old Gamboa says to have an effective knuckleball, “you’ve got to have control. You could have the nastiest knuckleball…I’ve had some really good ones, but if you can’t throw it for a strike, it’s pointless, it’s meaningless to even know how to throw a knuckleball.”

Peter Schmuck (“The Schmuck Stops Here,” ouch) goes further in a piece which titularly argues that “Orioles’ Eddie Gamboa needs to fully embrace the knuckleball.

That’s a paraphrase of Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who “singled out [Gamboa] for a little tough love” in the wake of a recent opening-day loss to the Detroit Tigers.

“Eddie’s got to decide whether he’s a knuckleball pitcher or not,’’ Showalter said. “He threw a 3-1 fastball to a left-hander. Didn’t throw a knuckleball until about the fifth pitch. Finally threw a 2-0 knuckleball for an out to a right-handed hitter, so hopefully we can use what happened today to kind of get through to him.”

Gamboa began trying to reinvent himself as a knuckleball pitcher in 2013 and has had just enough success over the past couple of years to give the Orioles reason to bring him to major league camp and give him a chance to perfect the pitch….

“So, I think as you go up higher levels, he’s going to see why he’s going to have to throw the knuckleball. He had a good one today.”

Of course, that requires a highly competitive guy to concede that his straight stuff is not good enough to get major league hitters out.

* * *

Replying to our item about Russell Martin’s early efforts to habituate himself to Dickey’s knuckleball, one of our readers suggests that “if Martin can catch it, Thole has no future.” Aware of how his future with the Blue Jays may go if Martin can learn to match him in knuckle-snatching prowess, Thole seems calm about it. That prospect doesn’t make things “hard for me at all,” he told the National Post.

Thole“One would think that, I suppose, but we’re all on the same team here. Whatever happens to me happens. I can’t control anything, I just have to go out and play, so at the end of the day if they send me down or whatever, at some point I’m going to hope to come back to help the team.”

So immediately after Martin caught Dickey in the bullpen for the first time this spring, it was perfectly natural—from Thole’s viewpoint—to approach Martin and offer some pointers.

Like Thole, Martin closes his catching stance when he catches Dickey. That day, Martin told Thole he was trying to adjust the footwork he uses to throw to second base from that new stance….

“If Russ is catching R.A., then he’s catching R.A. I would hate to see them struggle because of something I could’ve translated and said.”

It is not a foregone conclusion that Martin will succeed in taking over for Thole. As the Post’s John Lott points out, “Two years ago, J.P. Arencibia failed in his bid to catch Dickey. Last year Erik Kratz hit up a storm in spring training, but could not dislodge Thole.” IKA’s Ezra Wise suggests that Thole is likely to “maintain his roster spot if the Jays are successful at trading Dioner Navarro, who requested a trade following the signing of Russell Martin.”

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