As Opening Day Approaches, At Least One Reason to Watch the Toronto Blue Jays

Rob Neyer of Fox Sports offers three reasons to watch the Blue Jays this season.

Dickey signs autograph

We’re naturally most interested in one of the three, the pitcher-centric rationale for keeping tabs on the team. Neyer regards R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle as the pitchers most likely to deliver interesting moments. In fact, if we’re making a list of the five most interesting pitchers in all the major leagues…

…don’t R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle both have to be on it?

Dickey, of course, is MLB’s only top-notch, full-time,
dyed-in-the-wool knuckleball pitcher. Yes, Steven Wright’s got a shot at joining Dickey, whether this year or some other. But will Steven Wright co-write one of baseball’s better recent memoirs? Probably not. Is Steven Wright missing a ligament that almost everybody else has? Also probably not!

And then there’s Buehrle, who’s probably the fastest-working pitcher in the majors and the most durable.

So there’s wholly two-fifths of the Blue Jays’ pitching rotation, which means if you just happen to tune in for the first pitch, you’ve got a 40-percent chance of seeing something really interesting.

We suspect that lacking a missing ligament will not impede Wright even a little. Also that the statistical projection is not entirely scientific.

Neyer’s piece does not mention Russell Martin, the recent Jays acquisition whose developing Dickey-catching ability is the cynosure of all eyes. Rosie DeManno reports for the Toronto Star that Martin has developed a new catching stance (“Dickey’s knuckleball less of a mystery to Martin now”).

Martin assumed the novel position, left knee resting on the ground behind the plate, body swiveled to the three o’clock position.

“It’s just something I thought about,” said Martin, after six mostly tidy Dickey innings against the Phillies, a 6-3 Toronto win [on March 21]. “It’s something I used to do, just to give a lower target. What it does is it kind of freezes my hand. Normally my left knee is in that area and I kind of jam myself. I used to do it with sinker-ballers.

“It’s something I can do to get me some room over there. It felt really comfortable. And then I felt comfortable enough to do it even with guys on base.”

What the stance provides is more stability, particularly when the ball breaks back towards that part of the catcher’s body, allowing more space for Martin to work with.

Whether the new catching position or increasing familiarity with the knuckler, Martin had a less adventurous time of it on this afternoon than in their last outing, with only one ball squirting away.

Per Scott C. of SB Nation, Dickey also provided interest on Saturday:

The Blue Jays had a strong outing today in Clearwater against the Phillies today with R.A. Dickey and his knuckler looking quite nice and the bats doing the rest of the work. Devon Travis was a standout for the team making plays on both sides of the ball….

[Dickey] chugged along impressively in the first few innings, recording a solid amount of ground ball outs and a pair of strikeouts as well….

Jeff Francis replaced Dickey in the seventh ending the knuckler’s day with a line of 6.0 [Innings Pitched] with five hits and two strikeouts plus the two unearned runs in the fourth.

And Russell Martin “was 0-4 with two strikeouts but looked great catching Dickey’s knuckleball.”

The MLB season begins officially on April 5 with an opening-day game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs.