Russell Martin Starts Reaching for Dickey’s Knuckleball

Not easy “but doable” is how Russell Martin—a good hitter and good catcher in possession of a good contract with the Toronto Blue Jays—characterizes the job of scooping R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball.

As training with the Toronto Blue Jays began in earnest last week, Martin, Dickey, and interested observers said the start was auspicious, and expressed confidence in Martin’s prospects.

Martin and Thole

Toronto manager John Gibbons (a former catcher): “I thought he was really good. He’s got the hands to do it. And the fact he wants to is big.”

R.A. Dickey also approved: “Russell’s a great athlete…. More than that, he’s got a real willingness and desire to unpack what it takes to catch [the knuckleball] well, and so I don’t anticipate us having trouble. I think he’s going to be able to do it….

Dickey told FoxSports.com: “He’s a craftsman. He wants to be good at his craft and it shows in his pedigree and the things he’s been able to achieve and the reputation that he’s gotten…. I think because of that, he’s going to have a real good opportunity to give himself the best chance at catching it.”

“It’s definitely not an easy task, but you focus and follow the ball into the glove,” is Martin’s take. “It’s do-able. I guess I’ll just get more comfortable the more I catch. Toward the end of the bullpen I told him ‘just like you do with Thole, you can throw any pitch any time.’ That’s when he gets in a good rhythm…. I was able to do it without dropping too many.”

The Post’s John Lott sums up the nascent relationship:

[B]ecause Martin is such an important lineup piece, and an elite defender to boot, the Jays much prefer that he supplant the weak-hitting Thole as Dickey’s go-to guy….

A renowned receiver, Martin showed he could catch the fitful knuckler (he was unable to cleanly snare four or five). Beyond that, he and Dickey seemed to click in other ways. Even after one back-field game of catch on Tuesday, a few conversations over three days together and a bullpen session, Dickey is impressed with Martin’s desire to build rapport, intuition and trust to the point where the two can read each other’s minds in a game.

The new guy got tips from long-time Dickey catcher Josh Thole (pictured on the right, above, giving them). Thole’s productive partnership with Dickey goes back to 2010, when the duo were with the Mets. He readily acknowledges that he flubbed his fair share of knuckleballs when he first caught, or tried to catch, the mutable pitch.

Martin is eager to preempt the kind of scenario projected by IKA’s Ezra Wise (in our January 21 post on the impending Dickey/Martin team-up). “When I’m in the lineup, I feel like I can help the team win,” the catcher told The Canadian Press. “I don’t want just because it’s Dickey pitching today that I’m not playing.”

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