|Steven Wright: R.A. Dickey ‘re-wrote the book’ on the knuckleball’||02.17.13 at 8:52 pm ET|
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. Read the rest of this entry »
|Charlie Hough on Tim Wakefield: ‘He’s kind of a landmark’||04.01.11 at 6:51 pm ET|
ARLINGTON, Texas — Retired pitcher Charlie Hough describes himself as having been in the second tier of all-time knuckleballers. Hall of Famers Phil Niekro and Hoyt Wilhelm represent royalty when it comes to the pitch’s practitioners, but Hough classified himself as being a touch behind them, a pitcher who was “pretty good” in a career that spanned 25 years and yielded a 216-216 record and 3.75 ERA while lasting until the right-hander was 46 years old.
But while Hough has not pitched in 17 years, he remains connected to the game in a meaningful way thanks to Red Sox right-hander Tim Wakefield. Hough recalled working with Wakefield back in 1992, when the young Pirates pitcher was getting ready to pitch in Triple-A. It took Hough little time to realize that Wakefield would soon be taking the baton as the next generation of knuckleballer, though even he had no idea that Wakefield would take the baseball world by storm that year, going 10-3 with a 3.06 ERA in Triple-A before notching an 8-1 record and 2.15 ERA in the bigs for Pittsburgh (as well as 2-0 in the Braves).
Ever since their meeting 19 years ago, Hough has maintained an interest in a pitcher who is carrying on a little-understood tradition.
“I probably follow him more than he knows,” said Hough, who threw out the first pitch — yes, a knuckleball, albeit one that Hough joked had no action on it — at the Rangers’ home park. “I saw him when he was I guess just learning to throw a knuckleball. I remember speaking to him and he had a little microphone in his hand, a little tape thing in his hand when we talked about learning to throw it. He was already throwing it. He already knew how.
“The first time I spoke to him, he was in street clothes so I didn’t see him throw it. I threw it 10 feet with him,” Hough continued. “Then when I saw him pitch, I said, ‘Yeah, he’s gonna pitch.’ I didn’t know it was going to be as fast as it was. I saw him in spring ’92, and that’s the year he won a couple games in the playoffs, beat the Braves in the playoffs a couple of times. It’s one of those things. When you got it, it works. If you don’t throw it right, it doesn’t work. But what a career.”
Hough is familiar with the career stage at which Wakefield currently finds himself. He knows the increased soreness that comes with being on the mound — the knees, the back, the shoulder — while trying to pitch into his mid-40s, all of which makes it more challenging to repeat a delivery and sustain success.
Even so, he cautioned those who would dismiss Wakefield’s potential contributions to the Sox this year.
“Being a great competitor, he keeps coming back. Every year, it seems like the Red Sox have him out of the rotation, and at the end of the year, he’s their big winner,” said Hough. “Timmy’s on a great team right now. He’s not in the rotation, but you don’t know what’s going to happen. He might win 15 games.”
If such a prediction were to come to fruition, it would allow Wakefield to achieve a couple of historic marks. The 44-year-old, who has 193 career wins and 179 with the Sox, would surpass 200 victories for his career, and would also pass all-time franchise victories leaders Cy Young and Roger Clemens, currently tied with 193.
While the odds of such marks have grown longer as Wakefield nears the end of his career, Hough will be among those rooting for his one-time protegee to make history.
“I hope he catches those guys. I hope he passes them,” said Hough. “He’s had just an incredible career. To do what he’s done in Boston, throwing a knuckleball in that ballpark, I can’t imagine doing it,” said Hough. “He’s kind of a landmark there in Boston. He goes with the Wall, I think, doesn’t he?”
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