LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – It wasn’t a sharp outing for R.A. Dickey, whose knuckleball wasn’t dancing quite how the veteran wanted. But he got through three innings against the Marlins, and did it without showing them what they’re likely to see when they face him during the season.
So, he’d give himself at least a passing grade.
“I wouldn’t say I felt great, but it was a very productive day for me,” Dickey said after giving up five hits, five runs (two earned) and two walks in three innings of an 8-6 split-squad loss to the Miami Marlins in a Grapefruit League game at Champion Stadium. The Braves trailed 8-0 before scoring a run in the fifth and five in the seventh.
It was the second spring start for 42-year-old Braves newcomer Dickey, who gave up a leadoff homer to Dee Gordon in a four-run first inning in which three runs were unearned following a two-out error by Dansby Swanson. The rookie shortstop tried to make a difficult play and first baseman Matt Tuiasosopo couldn’t come up with the bounced throw, which allowed a run to score.
One walk later, Miguel Rojas’ two-run double through the left side pushed the lead to 4-0.
“As far as my knuckleball is concerned, really the only hard-hit ball on that pitch came on, Dee Gordon kind of ran into one right down the line,” Dickey said. “Outside of that, a lot of ground balls. I think they had three of their five hits on fastballs, so things like that — that’s just part of spring, especially early in spring.”
Dickey also gave up a leadoff walk in the second inning before coaxing a fly ball from Gordon and inning-ending double-play grounder from Martin Prado.
“I couldn’t have felt probably any worse than I did today,” Dickey said. “Just overall, body was feeling crappy. But it was great that I got three ups and three downs (innings) and got my work in. You’ve got to be able to manage games without feeling great, that’s part of it. … Of course there’s always some gamesmanship that’s going on with a team that you’re facing during the year, you know, and expose them to some things that you might not expose them to.
“I bet I threw 10 to 12 fastballs (in three innings). I may not throw that in a whole game (during the regular season). There were a lot of counts where I was doing that, just trying to manage the game, using some stuff that I wouldn’t normally use, that’s just part of it. So it was a good day overall, in that I got to get my work in, I didn’t feel worse for the wear afterwards, but didn’t feel good during the outing.”
On Monday against the Tigers, Dickey allowed two hits, two runs (one earned) and one walk with two strikeouts in two innings. Kurt Suzuki caught that game in Dickey’s Braves debut, and Tyler Flowers caught Saturday’s game. Neither had previously caught a knuckleballer.
The results on the scoreboard or in the box score aren’t important to Dickey now, the former Cy Young Award winner said.
“Weak contact or hard contact, and on what type of pitch — that’s important to me right now, and that’s the only thing that’s really important to me,” he said. “I didn’t get a lot of swings and misses today, which tells me that I didn’t have the finish that I normally do, like I did (against) Detroit when I got eight or 10 swings and misses in two innings. Today I might have had one in three innings. So that gives you some feedback.
“I didn’t feel great, too, so that’s probably part of it. I wasn’t finishing some pitches, and things like that.”
The Braves want all of their catchers to work with Dickey this spring and try to get comfortable or at least familiar with catching the knuckleballer. Even if they decide to use one or the other as his primary catcher during the season, the team wants to be able to make a change if necessary due to a specific matchup or an injury.
“My knuckleball right now is probably at a five out of 10, compared to where it will be later in the spring, especially after mid-March,” Dickey said. “So I thought (Flowers) did pretty good with it. I didn’t help him out any. I was throwing a lot that were breaking into the dirt, that were hard for him to corral. But I thought he did a very serviceable job.”