If R.A. Dickey's knuckleball proves to be as good as his timing and a whole lot better than the knuckler looked Sunday night he'll be back in the major leagues by September.
As a right-handed pitcher, Dickey had one strike against him when he was born without an ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. Strike two was the last two years, when he's been on the disabled list three times.
Strike three looked like it might be headed toward the plate this season. In addition to being on the DL, Dickey hasn't been the pitcher he wants to be; he's 3-5 with a 7.13 ERA for the RedHawks after going 0-1 with an 8.10 ERA with Texas.
So, he's decided to knuckle down.
Sunday night, against the Iowa Cubs, Robert Allen Dickey made his debut as a knuckleball pitcher.
It was not a success.
"It was terrible on paper, Dickey said, "but I've got to try to glean something positive from it.
The I-Cubs clubbed Dickey for 14 hits and 12 runs in 5 2/3 innings and went on to win 12-2 at SBC Bricktown Ballpark. He threw knuckleballs on 91 of 113 pitches.
"I try not to get too tied up in results, especially with it being a brand new thing for me, Dickey said. "It's a real hard pitch to throw for strikes sometimes, so I was behind in the count a lot.
"But I'm going to try to turn the page and commit to it. It takes a certain amount of fortitude to see something like this through.
"I'm a competitive guy, so to go out there and give up 12 runs is tough to swallow. But in order to be a professional, I've got to realize that hopefully there's a light at the end of the tunnel. I'm just going to stay with it and see what happens. I learned a lot, and that's what it's going to be about these first three or four games.
Though Sunday marked Dickey's first game as a knuckleball pitcher, he's thrown a hard knuckleballer occasionally for a few years.
"It's just called 'The Thing,' " Dickey said. "I probably threw 10 percent of those and 90 percent of everything else. Now it's going to be just about the opposite. I'll probably throw 80 percent knuckleballs and 20 percent of everything else."
Despite Sunday's performance, the timing seems to be right for Dickey to switch from conventional pitching to throwing a knuckler. His career is at a crossroads. He has nine starts left before the RedHawks season ends in September, and he already has an advantage no other knucklers have had: "The Thing," the hard knuckleball he's thrown for several years.
"I'm fortunate, because I've thrown a hard knuckleball, so I'm comfortable throwing a hard one," Dickey said. "But the key is going to be taking speed off it and being able to throw it for strikes.
"The different speeds you throw it, the different ways it moves. The harder one breaks sharper, but it only breaks once. The slower one breaks numerous times on the way to the hitter. So, if I throw a good one at 70 mph, you can be looking at three or four different breaks over the course of the pitch."
Dickey, the only player who has been in six RedHawks seasons, has been throwing his new, softer knuckler on the side for a few weeks. Brian Esposito has been doing the catching, and Chris Richard and Chad Allen have stood in as batters.
"His slow one moves a lot, and his faster one kind of gets on you and does some late movement, sort of does some tumbling action," Richard said. "He's controlled it pretty well in practice, and any time you're facing a knuckleballer, as long as it's moving around, it's hard to hit. It doesn't matter what the speed is."
Allen has faced today's premier knuckleball pitcher, Tim Wakefield of the Boston Red Sox, along with Jared Fernandez and retired knuckler Tom Candiotti.
"R.A. doesn't have as much movement on his knuckleball as Wakefield does, but the thing about it is, he can throw two different speeds for strikes," Allen said. "For him to be able to do that right now and to be able to control it is pretty impressive.
"For a guy who hasn't thrown it his whole life, it's pretty dang good. I think he's going to get better and better as time goes on. Plus, he's got two other pitches, fastball and curveball, that he can throw for strikes to back it up."
Dickey's fast knuckleball "The Thing" travels 81 to 82 mph. His slower knuckler is 68 to 75 mph.
"To stand out there on the hill and throw 70 mph is a tough thing to do," Dickey said. "It's a real mental hurdle for me to get over, to kind of float it in there. For me to do that, after having a career of doing the other, it's going to take some adjustments."
The Rangers recommended but didn't insist that Dickey try being a knuckleball pitcher. They left the decision up to him.
"Hopefully it will prolong his career in the big leagues," RedHawks manager Bobby Jones said. "They didn't tell him he had to do it, they suggested it."
RedHawks pitching coach Lee Tunnell said, "He's a good enough athlete and determined enough that he's the kind of guy who would be able to do it. And he's changing speeds on it. It'll be a work in progress, but he's committed to it and I think these last nine starts he has will be a good barometer."
Richard, who has faced more Dickey knucklers than anyone, said he thinks switching to the knuckleball is a great idea for Dickey.
"You never know what's going to happen because it's a freak pitch," Richard said. "Sometimes you square 'em up and sometimes you don't. There's really no way to prepare for it. You've just got to see it and hit it and do your best."
Dickey knows he will be sort of a knuckleball intern, a work in progress.
"It's not going to be an overnight miracle by any means. But it could be something that will put me over the top," Dickey said.
"A knuckleballer in Arlington could be pretty good because of the wind, because it gets a lot of ground balls, because you can go deep into games and because it's not necessarily a pitch that puts a lot of stress on your arm.
"If you've got a good one, it can carry you for a long time, prolong your career by eight, nine, 10 years."Archive ID: 2550277