Come Spring Training, R.A. Dickey and Russell Martin Will Work to Bond Knuckleball-wise

The Toronto Blue Jays have got themselves a new star catcher who is also a star hitter: Russell Martin. And the question is how consummately he will be able to catch R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball. As we noted—or, more precisely, as J.P. Arencibia and Gregg Zaun noted—in our last post, catching the pitch requires some reconfiguration of the usual stance and procedure.

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Although extremely comfortable with his working relationship with Josh Thole, who followed him to the Blue Jays, Dickey believes that Martin can do a good job catching him once he’s had the necessary practice. According to The Globe and Mail’s Robert MacLeod:

“I’ve thrown 75-80 per cent of my starts since 2010 to Josh Thole and I love him like a brother,” Dickey said unabashedly on Friday….

Martin has very little history catching the unpredictable nature of the knuckleball, and Dickey, in Toronto on Friday to help kick off the Blue Jays’ cross-country winter tour promotion, said there is plenty of work to do.

“Nothing’s going to replace time spent together,” Dickey said. “And so, I think from the get-go we’re going to probably be spending a lot of time on the side, bullpens, playing catch, so that he can get a feel for what that pitch does and see if he feels like it’s something he can do every day that I pitch. That’s 34 starts….

“Russell just needs to get repetitions. He’s an incredible athlete and so guys that are good athletes, they’ve got to have good hand-eye co-ordination, which he possesses. They usually have, not an easy time, but a better chance of doing it well.”

We asked IKA’s Ezra Wise for his thoughts on what happens if, despite all their practice and rapport-building in spring training, Martin doesn’t snag Dickey’s wobblers as adeptly as everyone hopes.

“If Martin proves unable to catch Dickey, he could conceivably be used as the designated hitter when Dickey pitches,” Ezra says. “However, that position is typically occupied by the even more dangerous Edwin Encarnación.

“Although Martin can play a passable third base, the position will be occupied almost exclusively by Josh Donaldson, who according to Fangraphs WAR [Wins Above Replacement] has been the tenth-best position player in baseball over the past few years.

“If, by failing to catch Dickey, Martin does get some time as designated hitter, that would move Encarnación to first base in place of Justin Smoak. It’s more likely, though, that Martin would simply get the day off when Dickey pitches, with Josh Thole taking his place. Catchers typically get one day off every seven games. So it wouldn’t be the end of the world if Jays manager John Gibbons were to schedule Martin’s days off on the basis of Dickey’s turn in the rotation.”

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