Fellow Knuckler Predicts Success For Dickey

ringolsby250110DENVER–R.A. Dickey would have been happy to remain with the Mets. He just wanted to get what he felt was a market-value contract.

Turns out, Dickey is getting what he wants, and even more.

The Blue Jays believed enough in the 38-year-old Dickey that before they closed the deal to acquire him from the Mets, they wanted to make sure they could sign him to a contract extension.

They got it.

And Dickey? He hit the triple crown. He got financial security, signing a two-year extension that guarantees him $30 million over the next three seasons, with a $12 million option for 2016.

He gets to keep his catcher, Josh Thole, who was his primary catcher during his three successful seasons with the Mets. He also came to Toronto in the trade, along with catcher Mike Nickeas, who was the primary alternative to Thole for Dickey the past two years.

And Dickey will get to pitch at Rogers Centre, where the climate-controlled environment will provide a consistency less likely to interfere with his knuckleball.

Voice Of Experience

R.A. Dickey

R.A. Dickey (Photo by Tomasso DeRosa)

Longtime knuckleballer Charlie Hough said he expects big things for the Blue Jays and for Dickey.

"They have been playing baseball an awful long time, and he's the only knuckleballer to win the Cy Young, so that says plenty about his ability," Hough said. "You're looking at a good athlete, with a feel for the game and a desire to do whatever it takes to be successful."

Dickey was a first-round pick of the Rangers in 1996, but a post-draft physical revealed that he was missing a ligament in his elbow. He persevered for 10 years in the Rangers organization and reached the major leagues, but was allowed to walk away as a free agent after 2006. He never gave up and remade himself as a knuckleballer. Now look at him.

"He's an awfully determined guy to have stuck with it," Hough said. "It was 14 years before he really made it to the big leagues, and he had to go back to the minor leagues and reinvent himself. He didn't start to throw it until (2006), and in 2010, he finally made it."

Hough, who works with the Dodgers as a special adviser in player development, said it's a bonus that Dickey will still have Thole behind the plate when he pitches.

"That's pretty good, getting a guy who is familiar with you to be part of the deal," he said. "You have to have someone who is comfortable with the challenge catching you. He has to be a guy who realizes he's not going to win a Gold Glove. He's not going to get style marks. He can't get caught up in form. He has to focus on keeping the ball in front of him."

Rogers Centre does have an artificial surface "which is going to be a little quicker. There are tradeoffs in everything. But being in a dome will help."

If the wind or breeze comes from home plate toward the mound, Hough said, it will help the movement of the knuckleball. But if the wind comes from behind the pitcher, it will straighten the pitch out.

"Side winds are more a problem than anything," he said. "They start blowing and you don't know where to start your pitch because of the break. R.A. is a little different. His knuckleball doesn't break a lot. He throws it real hard and it's in the zone longer."

Because Dickey is a knuckleballer, Hough said he doesn't think the Blue Jays took a gamble in extending his contract through age 40.

"You take a regular pitcher and say he's 32 and won the Cy Young Award, you'd give him a five-year deal," he said. "Well, he's like a 32-, 33-, 34-year-old pitcher in terms of what's left, so that contract is well within his range."

Hough won 72 games in the five years starting with the season he turned 38. Phil Neikro won 71 games in the four years after turning 38.

"Reflexes are the key," Hough said. "Mine were never really good. I had a bad shoulder and legs that always hurt. That's why I had to try the knuckleball. R.A. did it because he wanted a chance to be a big league pitcher. He was one of those guys people talk about as a 4-A pitcher. He could never get over the hump, so he decided to try something different. It worked."