Kurt Suzuki had never before worked with a knuckleball pitcher when he joined the Atlanta Braves as a catcher around the same time that knuckleball catcher R.A. Dickey was also signing on. But Suzuki tells the Macon Telegraph’s Ron Siebel that he’s getting the hang of it.
During spring training, Suzuki worked with Dickey, going behind the plate on the days Dickey was pitching. Was it a learning process? Certainly.
Suzuki caught four Dickey starts in Florida, and they also did some bullpen work.
“It’s going pretty good,” Suzuki said. “There will be your good days and your tough days. But for the most part, the more I get back there the more comfortable I’ll be. We’ll kind of see where it goes.
“I’ve enjoyed [working with Dickey]. Sometimes he’ll play tricks on you. He’s kind of mental, psych yourself out. I try to embrace it. It’s the first time in my career that I get to catch the knuckleball; I’m just going to try to go with the flow and have fun with it.”
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It was pretty lame for an April Fools’ Day hoax, but yeah, Travis Barnett fooled us for about three milliseconds with his April 1 Bucs Dugout FanPost about how “Drew Hutchinson [is] working on the knuckleball”: “After a disappointing spring, Drew Hutchison has decided to recast himself as a knuckleball pitcher,” a claim immediately followed by an animation of Rick Astley dancing (sort of), along with a speech bubble (song bubble?): “Never gonna give you up….” (This is a watered down version of what’s called being “Rickrolled” on the net, which entails diverting the unwary clicker from where he thought he was going–video of a calculus lecture perhaps–to a video of the Rick Astley song.)
There remains the question, should Hutchison pursue the knuckleball? Maybe. That depends in part on whether he would be good at throwing a knuckleball (it’s not that easy) and in part on why he slumped in spring training to the extent that the Pittsburgh Pirates decided to send him to a triple-A team to work on getting back to where he was.
“We still believe he can be a quality Major League starting pitcher,” [Pittsburgh general manager Neal] Huntington said. “We need to do some work to get him right and … the best way to do that was to send him to Indianapolis and give him consistent work and bullpens to see if we can get him back to what we believe we got when we traded for him.”
Hutchison is young (26), and he may well recover his prowess with the conventional pitches. But those pitches subject the pitcher to greater wear and tear than the knuckleball normally does, and Hutchison himself suffered a ligament sprain soon after starting his MLB career in 2012—after having spent a few years in the minors to which he has just been sent back.
You certainly can’t relax when you’re throwing the knuckleball. But the motion doesn’t bust up your muscles as much as those harder-hurled pitches. Thus, persons who can no longer excel with the most physically strenuous pitches may find a second life in baseball by acquiring skill with the knuckleball. No fooling.
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Even Mother Nature’s getting into the act. There’s lots of snowmelt in Utah this spring, and it may cause flooding in the state before the unusually high water levels can be penned in reservoirs. According to Wayne Pullan, an official with U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, “Either we have far less water than we need [in a given year] or far more water than we need. It is years like this that allow us to store water…. In 2017, Mother Nature threw us a knuckleball.”