FORT MYERS, Fla. — When 38-year-old R.A. Dickey won the Cy Young award last year in the National League, it was revolutionary on many fronts. A pitcher salvaged his career with a pitch still thought by many to be a gimmick pitch.
Dickey went 20-6 with a 2.73 ERA for the Mets, and after being traded to the Blue Jays in a package that sent a pair of top prospects to New York, he received a two-year, $25 million extension for 2014 and 2015 on top of his current contract.
Red Sox right-hander Steven Wright was paying very close attention. He knew that Dickey was on the fringe of his major league career before he started throwing his knuckleball harder, with the same arm velocity as his fastball.
“I think he just re-wrote the book on it, to be honest with you, because what he did last year was unbelievable, for any pitcher,” said Wright on Sunday. “The fact that he did it with a knuckleball I think shows you can compete at a high level with the best of the best with a knuckleball. The harder knuckleball is easier to control in a sense because the movement is not as big. He’s just re-writing history as far as the way people look at the knuckleball.
“I think eveyrone thinks they have a knuckleball. I think more teams are going to be open to letting guys try it, I really do. I think that somebody like myself, I was able to compete with my other stuff but I never really had an out pitch. I think if a guy gets to that point, I think teams are going to be like, ‘Okay, let’s see what you’ve got,’ and maybe give him a little more time than previous to R.A.”
Wright was a 2006 draft pick of Cleveland out of the University of Hawaii who could throw 94 MPH. In 2011, with the help of Tom Candiotti and advice of Charlie Hough, Wright added the knuckleball to his repertoire, pitching at both levels of Class A, as well as Double-A and Triple-A. The results were mostly mixed, going 4-8 with a 4.58 ERA.
“That’s why I was getting frustrated,” the 28-year-old Wright said. “I have one good outing then I have one bad outing and I was like, ‘I’m going to throw fastballs and I’m going to throw my knuckleball off of that and adjust from there,’ instead of just flush, throwing hard and try to throw a pitch at 60 miles an hour.
“I’ve been throwing it since I was nine years old. So, it was one of those things I knew how to throw it. So, when I talk to Candiotti and Hough, they were telling me you just have to go with whatever feels good in your hands. So, I would just close my eyes and was like, ‘That’s what it is and that’s my grip.’ But I didn’t really get to understand it until I started working with Charlie Hough. Once I worked with Charlie Hough, he helped me simplify the pitch because it’s not as complex as I thought it was going to be. You just have to have your checkpoints and once you have your checkpoints, you stick with them so you can repeat them so that if something goes wrong, you just go back to what your checkpoints are.”
Last season was a breakthrough. He went 10-6 with a 2.44 ERA in 21 starts at Double-A before being dealt to Boston for Lars Anderson. He initially joined the Double-A Portland team before being promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket, where he went 0-1 with a 3.15 ERA in four starts. (more…)