PHOENIX, Ari. — Well aware of his numbers through three outings this spring, including a start for the United States at the World Baseball Classic, Toronto Blue Jays ace R.A. Dickey is unconcerned by his results so far, explaining that honing the knuckleball is a process that typically takes time.
The reigning National League Cy Young Award winner was roughed up for four runs on six hits — including Adrian Gonzalez’s long home run — over four innings for the Americans in a 5-2 loss to Mexico on Friday, keeping his earned-run average through three pre-season outings at an untidy 9.00.
As it was Feb. 25 against the Boston Red Sox, when he gave up two runs on four hits and a walk in two innings, and again March 2 versus the Philadelphia Phillies, when he allowed three runs on four hits including Ryan Howard’s home run over three frames, Dickey’s knuckler was again inconsistent against Mexico, but says that’s no reason for concern.
“Last spring my first couple of outings I had about a nine ERA, you grow over the course of the spring,” he said. “Normally that’s how it is for me, I usually take the spring to get where I need to be.
"You want to step on the gas here (at the World Baseball Classic) because it's competition and you've got to win. I was able to do that for the most part, but I left a couple of knuckleballs up. That happens."
The Mexicans scratched out a pair of runs in the first when Eduardo Arredondo blooped a knuckler at his ankles to centre -- "he capped it," was how Dickey described the hit -- Ramiro Pena doubled and Luis Cruz followed with a sacrifice fly and Gonzalez with a run-scoring groundout.
Then in the third Gonzalez pounded a 2-1 knuckler to centre for a two-run blast that left the United States in a deep hole down 4-0. Dickey closed with a three-up, three-down fourth, leaving after 62 pitches, 43 strikes.
"I wasn't sharp," he said. "I felt pretty good in the 'pen and threw some really good ones when I was out there, but just consistently, it's just not as good as I would have hoped for.
"Even in the course of the season you have games like that, where it's not you're A-plus knuckleball, (Friday) was one of those nights. I left a couple up, ran into some barrels, and we lose."
Dickey ramped up his usual spring preparations to be better prepared for the Classic and with three weeks to go, some of which will be spent with the American team, there is still plenty of time for him to find his feel.
A positive from Friday's outing was that his pairing with catcher J.P. Arencibia continues to progress, with Dickey saying afterwards, "he did great, it's a non-issue in my mind, he's handling it well and I don't have any worries about it."
Arencibia called the experience of handling Dickey in a game of some importance "valuable," and believes the knuckleball will improve as his battery-mate gets physically stronger.
"The tough part is, as it is for everybody, your arm speed isn't there, you're still gaining velocity," explained Arencibia. "He said he throws the knuckleball a little bit harder, that's the difference. It's all just about getting back in shape, I'm sure it takes a couple more outings to be where he needs to be."
Two springs ago, Dickey finished in with a 4.15 ERA and 1.33 WHIP in 17.1 innings, and last year pitched to a 3.63 ERA and 0.92 WHIP in the same 17.1 frames. He's about halfway there from a workload standpoint, and is confident the rest will get there.
"Sharpness is what comes last," he said, "right when the season starts."