It is real. It is happening.
Though his unusually fast delivery of the relatively slow pitch has been his stock in trade, this season R.A. Dickey is consciously giving up a little knuckleball speed for a little more knuckleball control. He seems to be taking the tradeoff in good part though.
“Righty swapping velocity for command when it comes to signature pitch” is how bluejays.mlb.com sums it up.
Dickey walked 74 batters last season, which was the third most in the American League. The year before, he walked 71. The high number has been a concern.
When Dickey arrived in Toronto, one of the most intriguing things about him was how different he was from traditional knuckleballers. Dickey threw his signature pitch anywhere from the mid-70s to low 80s, and from 2010-12, he didn’t walk more than 54 batters in a season….
Dickey’s goal for this year is to limit the number of walks, and if a mid-70s knuckleball is the best way to accomplish that, it’s a change he’s willing to make.
“I think for me, it means that speed isn’t necessarily as important as being able to throw it in the strike zone,” said Dickey, who went 14-13 with a 3.71 ERA last season. “A lot of times, the last couple of years, I would get in trouble trying to make a knuckleball go 78 or 80 mph, when a 75 mph knuckleball is just fine and it’s in the strike zone.”
Dickey says he has realized that his reach can exceed his grasp, and needs to focus on what works best. “I get a little bit outside of my mechanics and I can generate a little bit more velocity…. Really, proactively, practicing staying in that comfort zone is what’s going to help me most of all.”
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From the April 11 New York Times, more on Steven Wright’s appearance in the 19-inning mega-game between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. Wright was about to be sent back down to the minors, but was still on hand to fill out the exorbitant number of innings:
Wright, a 30-year-old knuckleballer with only 11 previous major league appearances, was thrust into action because there was no other choice, and it worked out well for Boston. Even though Wright blew leads in the 16th and 18th innings, he still earned the win by pitching the last five innings of a 19-inning, 6-5 win early Saturday by the Red Sox over the Yankees, the longest game by time in Red Sox history.
“I looked around in the bullpen, and I was the only one left,” Wright said. “But that’s my role, and I like that role. I can come in and throw five or six innings, 100 pitches if I’m needed, and today I was able to do that.”
Wright was on the roster only because Joe Kelly, a starting pitcher, began the season on the disabled list, and Wright was prepared to start this weekend. He had built up his stamina to 100 pitches during spring training, and on Wednesday the Red Sox said he would start on Saturday against the Yankees. But the Red Sox changed their minds, decided Kelly was ready to go and optioned Wright to the minor leagues on Saturday morning instead of having him make his third major league start.
But on Friday Wright was still at Boston’s disposal in case of an emergency, and a 19-inning game was just that. If there was one thing the Red Sox needed, it was an expendable knuckleballer who was headed to Class AAA Pawtucket in the morning, regardless of the outcome.