Jays Keeping Knuckleball Catcher Thole, Rays Getting Knuckleball Pitcher Gamboa

TholeThe Toronto Blue Jays are holding onto Josh Thole, the catcher that R. A. Dickey loves to throw to. According to the Kelown Daily Courier:

The club announced Thursday that the knuckleball specialist has been signed to a major-league contract.

Thole elected to become a free agent on Tuesday night after clearing waivers. The 29-year-old was designated for assignment by Toronto on Monday to make room for catcher Dioner Navarro.

Thole is primarily used as the catcher for knuckleballer R.A. Dickey but is hitting just .158 this season in 47 games.

Dickey has relied on Thole for many years now. In 2011, when they were both still with New York Mets, Dickey said, “I love throwing to him. He works his tail off—blocking balls and all that stuff. I have so much experience with him, it’s like second nature throwing to him. He knows my language and what I expect and how to communicate.”

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Eddie Gamboa - KnuckleballEddie Gamboa is back in the big leagues, where he had briefly been once before. He was promoted to the Tampa Bay Rays on September 1.

Gamboa, 31, a knuckleballer, compiled a 6-4 record and a 2.68 ERA in 94 innings pitched at Triple-A Durham this season. Gamboa split his time as a starter and reliever this year, making 12 starts. He struck out 89 hitters and surrendered 65 hits and 39 walks.

This will be Gamboa’s second time being called up to the major leagues during his nine-year professional baseball career. The right-hander was called up for two days last April with the Baltimore Orioles as an emergency arm but didn’t play….

Gamboa signed with Tampa Bay as a minor-league free agent this spring.

It’s a very special occasion, according to Roy Cummings, both because Gamboa is a knuckleballer and because he’s 31.

The last time the Tampa Bay Rays brought a rookie pitcher out of the minor leagues who was as old as 31-year-old Eddie Gamboa, Disney Pictures made a movie out of it.

Gamboa will gladly settle for a few highlights on Disney’s sports network, ESPN. If he continues to master the pitch his father taught him 19 years ago, he’ll see plenty of those highlights.

“I was 12, and he didn’t even know how to throw it [the knuckleball], but he thought it would make the hitters uncomfortable,’’ Gamboa said. “Now I’m part of a small little fraternity.’’…

“Having people like Phil Neikro, Steven Wright and R.A. Dickey help me with it has been great,’’ Gamboa said of throwing the knuckleball. “But Charlie Haeger has by far made the biggest difference.’’

Haeger is the Rays’ minor league pitching coordinator and the point man of a new Rays directive in which the team is looking a little more closely at pitchers with specialty pitches, such as Gamboa.

As a result, Haeger and Gamboa worked side-by-side through spring training this year, refining Gamboa’s grip of the knuckleball, his overall mechanics and the degree to which he uses it….

Gamboa was a bit surprised himself when he got the call-up from the Rays a few days ago. It was the justification he was looking for after he gambled on himself by leaving the Orioles.

“There are very few teams that want a knuckleballer,’’ Gamboa said. “But you have to take advantage of the fact that you’re unique. And that was a big reason I decided to throw a knuckleball in the first place.

“I wanted to be different. There are a lot of 6-foot-1 righties that throw 88-91, so I had to try to find a way to stand out and let’s face it, age was becoming a factor for me.’’

Gamboa debuted with the Rays last Friday.

Gamboa, a 31-year-old who converted to knuckling a few years back on a whim, had been recalled last season by the Orioles, but failed to appear in a game. That changed on Friday, obviously, as he faced four batters, walking two, allowing a hit, and striking out Michael Saunders on—what else—a knuckleball.



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