|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 »
|Tim Wakefield: ‘I can finally say it’s over’||02.17.12 at 7:57 pm ET|
FORT MYERS, Fla. — There was one brief moment where Tim Wakefield lost it.
But like his major league career spanning 19 big league seasons – the final 17 with the Red Sox, he quickly regained composure and went about his business in a workmanlike fashion.
“It’s with a heavy heart that I stand here today,” Wakefield began before pausing to compose himself, “and I’m saddened to say I’ve decided to retire from this wonderful game of baseball.”
Wakefield trembled with the final 15 words, words he’s had been preparing the last several hours, weeks and months since the end of the 2011 season.
Wakefield was surrounded by friends, family, agent Barry Meister and teammates – both present and former – as the sun set on jetBlue Park and the career of one of the most successful knuckleball pitchers in MLB history.
“I can finally say it’s over,” Wakefield said.
“For the past 17 years, all I ever wanted to do is what was best for our team and the organization, whether it was starting, closing or whatever I was asked to do. I always had my spikes on and was ready to go. I’ve been so blessed to have been able to wear this uniform and be a part of this historic franchise for as long as I have and I’ve enjoyed many successes along the way. But when it came down to it, I had to take a hard look at what I felt was best for me, my family and the Red Sox. There is nothing I want more than for this team to win and it’s hard sometimes to take yourself out of the decision process.
“But in my heart, I feel that by retiring, I’m giving them a better chance to do that. In saying that, I also feel this is what is best for my family to succeed as well. This a special time in my kids’ life and I’ve never wanted to regret not being there for them. Thank you to the Red Sox for giving me the greatest time in my life.”
Wakefield was offered a minor league contract and an invite to camp, which he declined, leading to Friday’s decision. Wakefield finished with a career record of 200-180 with 22 saves and a 4.41 ERA in 627 big league games, 463 as a starter. He finished third on the all-time Red Sox wins list six behind Roger Clemens and Cy Young. He goes into retirement as the franchise leader in innings pitched (3,006) and starts (430).
Red Sox chairman Tom Werner represented team ownership and paid tribute to Wakefield professionalism, longevity and success. He also thanked Wakefield for overcoming the 2003 disappointment of Aaron [bleeping] Boone and sacrificing himself in Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS. That sacrifice of the Game 4 start that season is widely credited with saving the pitching staff and paving the way for the Red Sox to pull off the most dramatic comeback in the sport’s history.
The Red Sox would win the World Series that year and again in 2007, and Wakefield was a key part of both.
“Thank you for the two parades,” Werner said.
|Tim Wakefield is ‘very proud’ of what’s he’s done this year||07.07.11 at 12:01 am ET|
It doesn’t seem that long ago in the middle of spring training in Fort Myers when the career of Tim Wakefield appeared very close to – if not at – the end.
Here was a 44-year-old knuckleballer looking for a roster spot in a rotation that included Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lackey. The bullpen had been restocked and reloaded with names like Bobby Jenks, Dan Wheeler and Matt Albers to go with Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon.
Where could Wakefield possibly fit in?
Well, Matsuzaka has had Tommy John surgery. Buchholz is out with a bad back until at least after the All-Star break and Lester joined Buchholz on the 15-day DL Wednesday with a strain of his left side. Not only is Wakefield wanted. He is needed – desperately – and on Wednesday night, just three weeks shy of his 45th birthday, he gave the Red Sox seven innings and led them to a 6-4 win over the Blue Jays.
“Very satisfying,” Wakefield said. “I knew I had to go deep in the game today, even though we had some back-up with Atch getting called up today but the bullpen’s been taxed pretty heavily the last couple of days. It’s something as a starting pitcher you take a lot of pride in, to get deep in the game and try to preserve those guys for the next series.
“I take a lot of pride because it was my job coming into this year. I’m getting an opportunity to help us win in whatever capacity that might be this year. I’m very proud of the job I’ve done so far.” Read the rest of this entry »
|Mike Quade has a new level of respect for Tim Wakefield||05.23.11 at 1:16 pm ET|
Quade was with the Pirates organization as a minor leaguer through 1983 and managed in their minor league system thought 1986, just two years before they drafted Wakefield as a first baseman. A year later, in 1989, Quade heard that they were converting Wakefield to a knuckleball pitcher.
Sunday night – 22 years later – Wakefield threw just 75 pitches, allowing four hits and one run over 6 2/3 innings in leading the Red Sox to a win Sunday night before a national TV audience.
“I was a Pittsburgh guy when I first signed and was over there and know a lot of people in that organization that saw him go from a guy going nowhere as an infielder/first baseman,” Quade said. “He’s had one helluva career. I wish we would have not allowed him to have such a good night.
“He’s been a wonderful for this guy for this organization for, heck, I’ve lost track for how many years. What a valuable guy to have in your pen, he can throw every day, he can start for you.”
Wakefield came in at 0-1 with a 5.40 ERA. He left 1-1 with a 4.50 ERA.
“I know he struggled going in but he threw a high percentage of strikes with his knuckleball,” Quade said. “If those guys do that, they’re usually tough. He threw one fastball to my catcher and it was a base hit. He’s been around the block. If his knuckleball is good, he’s real tough. I’ve heard lots of stories.” 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?”
|Left-Handed Knuckleballers||03.08.09 at 9:07 am ET|
Red Sox fans may know Rich Sauveur as the pitching coach in Triple-A Pawtucket. Yet the 45-year-old represents something as a result of a most unusual playing career that spanned just 34 major-league appearances over a 15-year span (from 1986-2000). His statistics at the major-league level suggest little glory: an 0-1 record, 6.07 ERA, no saves, 24 walks and 28 strikeouts in 46 innings.
Why is any of this of interest? Sauveur concluded his career as a practitioner of the knuckleball’an unusual enough class of major-league pitcher. But he was not just a knuckleballer, he was a left-handed knuckleballer.
How rare a breed is that? According to baseball-reference.com, there have been 1,625 pitchers who have made a major-league appearance this decade. According to this fascinating list, exactly one was a left-handed knuckleballer.
How did Sauveur become the entirety of that class? Read the rest of this entry »
|How to catch a knuckleball||02.25.09 at 8:42 pm ET|
Serving as your teacher, catcher George Kottaras …
“The big thing is to just trust in yourself and not get all amped about going and get the ball. Just letting the ball come to you and catching the ball deeper into your body rather than going out and getting it.
“With the stance, we’re more turned to the side, with our chest pointing toward the second baseman and our left knee tucked in a little bit just to free up our left hand. When you’re squared you’re a little more tied up so when your knee is bent it allows for a little more range of motion.
“You just keep your thumb up to the sky because Wake’s throwing to our facemask and he’s got his focal point already so he’s not looking at a target. So just keep your thumb up so you can roll over. You kind of give with the glove anyway, but you want to start (on the side) with the knuckleball.”
|Bottom first: Wakefield gives it back||09.17.08 at 4:41 pm ET|
There is no secret about Tim Wakefield‘s historic success indoors. The knuckleball, forced to contend only with air-conditioning, tends to be a more reliable weapon that when employed in, say, the gruesome heat of Texas. Wakefield entered tonight with a 20-11 record and 3.76 career ERA, the latter figure more than half a run better than his 4.31 overall ERA.
This year, however, he has been less than stellar in the great indoors. Wakefield entered tonight with an 0-2 record and 5.40 in his four dome starts, and got tagged for three runs (including a two-run blast to left by Willy Aybar) in the first inning. With three runs yielded in the first, Wakefield now faces an uphill battle to set a new career high with a 19th quality start of the season.
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