Knuckleballers Gear Up for 2014

Zach Clark, 30, Baltimore Orioles organization. “I got to the big leagues. I want to stay there. And conventionally, I’d probably have to be at my best all the time for that to be a likely scenario. With the knuckleball, maybe it takes me a little while to figure it out, but my career could be exponentially longer. It could double or triple what it could have been if I stayed conventional.”

R.A. Dickey, 39, Toronto Blue Jays. “If you throw a good one, you make them look foolish. It certainly didn’t start that way. I was all over the place early on in my career as a knuckleballer, and would have games where I’d walk five or six guys and have four or five wild pitches…. It’s a very unique, interesting pitch. It can be really ugly when it’s ugly, but when it’s on, it’s fantastic.”

Eddie Gamboa, 29, Baltimore Orioles organization. “It’s a wonderful feeling to know that your hard work is slowly paying off. But this is always where I expected to be. Now I have the opportunity to do something and just compete and just try to open up some eyes again like I did last year…. I’ve come a long ways, just with the confidence. I think that’s the biggest thing. I’m confident that I can go out there and pitch with it…. I was really trying to find my identity last year. Now, I have an idea of what I want to do. I have a plan for 2014. If it’s great and I can control it better than other days, I’m going to throw it more and more.”

Charlie Haeger, 30, Boston Red Sox organization. “I understand it more…. I understand that some days are good with it and some days are bad. That just comes with experience. Early in my career I would get frustrated and would try to change something, and now I‘m more patient. I’m obviously always trying to improve, but I understand that I’m throwing a pitch that sometimes moves a lot, and other times doesn‘t move. I’m kind at the mercy of it. Being a knuckleball pitcher is different from being a pitcher who throws a knuckleball. There are guys who throw one occasionally, or even half the time, but it’s hard to be a conventional pitcher with a knuckleball. You have to make a commitment to the pitch.”

Tomo Ohka, 37, Toronto Blue Jays organization. Caught chuckling. Perhaps visualizing batters trying to hit his knuckleball?

Kevin Pucetas, 29, Texas Rangers organization. “I kind of had [the knuckleball] in the back of my mind. I wasn’t having a great year in Frisco, I definitely wasn’t where I wanted to be with my numbers. So I agreed to give it an evaluation and [said] let’s see where this is and where it can take me…. [The Rangers] wanted me to pursue this thing; they really wanted me to try and make this change. It was kind of a new challenge. It’s something that’s been fun.”

Blaine Sims, 24, Atlanta Braves organization. “There’s been some good with it and there’s been some rough. Talking to Mr. Phil [Phil Niekro], he says it doesn’t matter. He remembered one game in which he walked 12 and threw a one-hit shutout. It’s just the way that it is. He said you may walk two guys to start the inning, but once you find the pitch, it’s over with.”

Steven Wright, 29, Red Sox organization. “I did not want to be a knuckleball pitcher. I started throwing it at a young age and I’ve thrown it my whole life. I knew I could throw it but I had a lot of pride in my abilities to get guys out with my fastball, my slider and sinker. It took a lot of pride for me to swallow to fully commit. It is a pitch that not a lot of guys know a lot about. When I entered spring training in 2011 I was on the bubble again. It was the second year in a row. Even though I was a second rounder I was on the bubble of being released. I knew it too, no one has to tell you. In spring training I had the chance to throw it here and there and thought this might be the way to impress them. I then had an opportunity to work with Charlie Hough. Talking with him and learning how simple it can be. It’s a hard pitch to throw but he helped me simplify it. So I can keep it where it doesn’t speed up on me.”

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