In his first two starts as Toronto Blue Jays ace this season, R.A. Dickey has already shown how low and high things can go when a team's fortunes are riding on the most mercurial pitch in baseball—the knuckleball.
His nadir came on Opening Day when the Tampa Bay Rays jumped on Dickey early, scored six runs off him and cruised to an easy 9-2 victory.
That game had been billed as a pitching duel between two former Cy Young winners—Rays starter David Price won the American League honor in 2012, and Dickey took home the National League hardware in the same year when he was pitching with the Mets.
Price played the part, but Dickey was far from top form.
Dickey lobbed knuckleballs over the plate in attempt to get ahead in the count, but the Rays were aggressive and pounced on multiple early offerings. That seemed to throw Dickey off, and he started missing the strike zone entirely, which led to a career-tying six walks.
At 39, Dickey is a wily veteran and as one of the most cerebral players in the game, he seemed eager to go back to the drawing board for his second start. Against the Yankees, he clearly had a new game plan.
Dickey threw some high, hard knuckleballs early in counts and added some slow floaters in a frenetic mix that had Yankee batters swinging off-balance. New York managed only five hits in Dickey's 6.2 innings. Dickey also added a walk and a hit batter to an otherwise impressive stat sheet, which included five strikeouts.
Dickey's battery mate, catcher Josh Thole, drove in a run in the second inning, so Dickey and Yankee starter Michael Pineda were locked in a 1-0 pitching duel for much of the game.
Both starters had left the game by the seventh inning, and in the eighth the Jays turned on the power: Melky Cabrera hit a solo shot, and Jose Bautista drove in Colby Rasmus with a two-run homer.
Sergio Santos finished off the shutout for the Jays in the ninth.
A knuckleball pitcher throwing a dizzying mix of fast and slow stuff, and a power-laden lineup coming through late in games: While this recipe may not be predictable (or reliable), it will surely be anything but bland.