The Way to Hit a Knuckleball…Maybe; Though Not Against Mickey Jannis

Matt Williams Nationals managerWe’re not sure we should be passing along advice on how to hit a knuckleball, or when to try (yes, we’re biased in favor of the pitcher). On the other hand, we’re not sure that the words of relatively successful knuckleball-hitter Matt Williams (pictured)—now a manager with the Washington Nationals—can be very readily assimilated and applied by any conscientious batter.

MasnSports reports that Williams’s ruling principle is “See it high, let it fly. See it low, let it go.”

“What you want from a knuckleballer is, the way I learned how to approach one, is to take their space away, which means get him up on the plate and into the box a little bit. Because they want space to throw the ball to. If the ball is up in the strike zone, take a whack at it.

“It’s never easy, it’s never fun. It’s just dancing. Especially [Dickey’s], it just dances all over the place. Try not to do too much with the baseball because the longer swing gets you in trouble. The shorter one, you tend to have better success. See it high, let it fly.”

Reporter Chris Johnson recalls that Williams “fared pretty well in his 17-year career against two of the game’s all-time knuckleballers, Tim Wakefield and Charlie Hough. Overall, he was 5-for-15, banging two homers against Wakefield and also taking Hough deep for his only hit in four at-bats.”

Washington National Bryce Harper, managed by Williams, scored a hit off Dickey last Tuesday (“Third time’s the charm for Bryce Harper against R.A. Dickey”).

Harper entered the game with a 3-for-14 career mark against Dickey, but improved those numbers slightly in the fifth inning when he knocked a single up the middle to score Jordan Zimmermann and give the Nationals a 1-0 lead.

Here’s how Harper, as tutored by Williams, grapples with the pitch:

“If he’s going to throw a knuckleball in there that’s belt high or up, we want to swing at that one because that’s the one you generally put in play better…. The one that goes down is difficult. The fact that he can change speeds with it. He throws harder ones and softer ones but the first one, he’s generally trying to throw a strike with and then he goes to work.”

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JannisSpeaking of knuckleballers confounding batters, Long Island Ducks knuckleballer Mickey Jannis made the news last week for taking a no-hitter

into the eighth inning before York Revolution shortstop Wilson Valdez hit a two-out infield single. Jannis and closer Ryan Kussmaul combined for the one-hit shutout as neither team recorded an extra-base hit in the Ducks’ 3-0 victory at Bethpage Ballpark Tuesday.

The Revs have never been no-hit, but Jannis carried his no-hit bid deeper into a game than any opposing pitcher in York’s club history — which dates back to 2007.

According to a report at Quack of the Bat: The Official Blog of the Long Island Ducks:

Long Island DucksFollowing back-to-back extra inning games against the York Revolution, one a win and one a loss, the Ducks were hoping that Tuesday’s series finale would not only result in a win, but would be limited to just nine innings. In addition, they were hoping that starter Mickey Jannis would be able to replicate his previous outing, when he pitched eight scoreless innings at Somerset….Well, Jannis did not disappoint, and the knuckleballer pitched the Ducks to a 3-0 shutout victory to earn a third consecutive series victory over the York Revolution this year.

The right-hander was the story all night long, as he nearly tossed a no-hitter despite battling rain and cold conditions throughout the game. He ran into a bit of trouble in the first, walking Wilson Valdez with one out and Andres Perez with two outs. However, he got Brandon Boggs to ground out to first to end the threat, and that seemed to give him a boost. Jannis retired 17 of the next 20 hitters he faced between the second and seventh innings, allowing just two walks and another batter to reach on an error…. In the eighth, he gave up a one out walk to Sean Smith and got a second out before Wilson Valdez came up to the plate. Just one out away from taking his no-no into the ninth, the speedy shortstop hit a slow roller to his defensive counterpart, Dan Lyons. The Ducks’ shortstop gave a valiant effort to race in and throw off-balance to first, but his toss was a bit offline. However, even a perfect throw likely would not have beaten York’s fastest runner to the bag. The result as a hard luck infield single that ended the no-hit bid. Jannis rebounded to strike out Bryan Pounds for his season-high ninth ‘K’ of the game, and that would end his night at 134 pitches.

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