New Crypto-Knuckleballer Discovered: Houston Astros Catcher Erik Kratz

Erik KratzErik Kratz and who else? How many secret unheralded knuckleball pitchers are out there? We want to know! Identify yourselves!

Not that we would wish for more embarrassingly lopsided games in order to increase the proportion of surreptitiously knuckleball-savvy position players waved onto the mound who then exhibit a knuckleball at the same time as they’re introducing their other pitching maneuvers. But the headline for Mike Axisa’s report about Tuesday’s Houston Astros v. Seattle Mariners game does read “Astros catcher forced to pitch in blowout, breaks out his knuckleball.”

At one point during his 27-pitch outing, Kratz [pictured] broke out a knuckleball because hey, why not? Most players mess around with knuckleballs while playing catch before games, and Kratz might never get a chance to pitch again. This was the time to try it….

Kratz threw it for a strike too. Hitters will tell you facing a position player on the mound is no fun because it’s a no-win situation. If you get a hit, it’s because you’re supposed to get hit off a position player. And if you make an out, well that’s just embarrassing.

Earlier in his outing Kratz threw what will likely go down as the wildest pitch of the season….

The Astros have been really struggling early this season. But, for one inning, Kratz provided some nice comic relief on the mound last night.

As SB Nation’s Mark Sandritter puts it, Kratz “may have given up three hits, two runs (one earned) and dished out two wild pitches, but at least he did it in style.”

Okay, one knuckleball for one strike in the context of a generally uneven performance does not prove much of anything, so maybe Kratz won’t be signed up as a Wright or Dickey successor any time soon. But other players have done better with a suddenly flourished knuckleball when called to pitcher duty. More of you guys are definitely out there, skulking behind third base or wherever, dreaming of unspinning orbs. Step forward!

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Illinois highschooler Nick Crowe may have more of a future as a knuckleballer. He uses it as only a sometime-pitch, though the most effective knuckleballers have let the knuckleball dominate their pitching repertoire. Still:

Crowe doesn’t use the knuckleball as frequently as the major leaguers once did but has given teams fits, mixing it in with the rest of his arsenal.

“You never know when he’s going to use it,” Manteno [High School] coach Andrew Zurales said. “He’ll throw you three or four in a row and then maybe you won’t see it for three or four hitters.

Crowe used the knuckleball to keep Reed-Custer off balance giving up no runs in 6 1/3 innings on Tuesday.

“It goes all the way back to the 9-10 year old All-Stars. He threw changeups and knuckleballs” teammate Easton Bertrand said. “You don’t see a lot of kids our age use that pitch.”

Keep it up, Mr. Crowe.



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