Matthew Lickona 9:46 a.m., May 20
The New York Mets R.A. Dickey (pictured) is a knuckleball pitcher, and a dominant one this season in particular, entering Friday’s contest against the San Diego Padres with a record of 14-2 and a 2.83 earned run average. What types of adjustments can a team make when facing him, or any knuckleball pitcher?
“You really don’t set your line-up different than with any other pitcher,” Padres manager Buddy Black said before the game. “I think historically against knuckleball pitchers there isn’t huge splits between left and right [handed hitters]. And you’ll find that there’s a lot of switch hitters that hit right-handed against right-handed knuckleball pitchers. [Dickey’s] knuckleball has velocity. When he really wants to wipe you out, it’s the hard one. Or as he says, the angry knuckleball.”
The lacking ability to prepare to face a knuckleball hitter was apparent a few hours before the game, as the Padres took batting practice in the cage rather than the field. Combined with coming off of a hot and muggy afternoon in Cincinnati the day before, batting practice in the field wouldn’t help, according to Black.
Dickey’s knuckleballs weren’t just angry, they were downright nasty at times. And while Clayton Richard did allow some hits and some base runners, Richard was as effective as was Dickey at keeping runs off of the board early, and a pitcher’s duel became a byproduct of their mutual effectiveness.
But in the top of the fourth inning, Richard got into some trouble he couldn’t completely get out of. After walking David Wright, Scott Hairston singled to center with Wright taking second and no one out.
Ike Davis popped out to shortstop, and Jason Bay flied to right, Wright tagging and taking third base on the play. Ronny Cedeno then hit an infield single, plating Wright, but Hairston was thrown out attempting to take third base on the play. But the run counted and the Mets led 1-0.
Meanwhile, R.A. Dickey was unhittable until the bottom of the fifth inning, when Yonder Alonso singled to left field with one out. But John Baker was called out on strikes and then Cameron Maybin popped out to second to end the frame. Up to that point, Dickey had only allowed a pair of walks.
The Padres were able to tie it up in the sixth inning, without getting a base hit. Everth Cabrera led off the bottom of the frame with a walk, and Clayton Richard sacrificed Cabrera to second base.
Cabrera stole third base, his nineteenth in as many attempts, and Chris Denorfia then hit a sacrifice fly deep to right field, and Cabrera easily tagged and scored. After six innings, it was 1-1.
“We’ve talked about [Cabrera] being the instinctual base stealer that he is. A delayed steal of third is a rare play, it’s not a play you really draw up, it’s an instinctual play by a base runner,” Black said.
In the bottom of the seventh inning, the Padres took the lead. With one out, Carlos Quentin singled, and then Yonder Alonso doubled and the ball appeared to be headed into the gap, but simply wasn’t hit hard enough. “I swung at it as soft as I could, because with a guy like that, the harder you swing, it’s a bad idea,” Alonso said of Dickey’s knuckleball.
Quentin came home when the ball appeared headed for the gap, but when it was cut off and relayed in, the throw arrived ahead of Quentin. Quentin then collided with Mets catcher Josh Thole and knocked the ball loose and scored and Alonso took third as the ball got away.
“When that ball was hit, I thought it had a chance to split the gap, just because of where [Andres] Torres was playing, and I realize that Carlos [Quentin] had to hesitate around second. Obviously the play was closer than where I thought it was going to be, originally. But they make two good relays right on line, and catcher [Josh] Thole didn’t give Carlos much room, and the play at the plate is where a team is trying to score a run,” Black said.
John Baker then singled to left and Alonso came home. After seven innings, the Padres led Dickey and the Mets, 3-1.
In the top of the eighth, the Mets sent Justin Turner up to pinch hit for Dickey, and Turner singled to center field. Luke Gregerson replaced Clayton Richard and Ruben Tejada lined a single to left, and the Mets looked like they were in business with runners on first and second base with no outs.
Gregerson then struck out Andres Torres and David Wright. Closer Huston Street came in for Gregerson and faced Jordany Valdespin, pinch hitting for Scott Hairston. Valdespin grounded out to second to end the Mets threat.
Huston Street then continued in the top of the ninth to close out the game and notch his 18th save in 18 opportunities, and the Padres prevailed, 3-1. R.A. Dickey fell to 14-3 while Clayton Richard improved to 8-11 on the season.
The Padres announced Friday afternoon that starting pitcher Kip Wells has been designated for assignment. The 35-year old Wells went 2-4 for San Diego this season, posting a 4.38 earned run average. The corresponding move is the call-up of Cory Burns from AAA Tucson. Burns, 24, pitched in 53 relief appearances for Tucson this season, compiling a record of 1-2 with a 2.63 earned run average along with three saves, and will make his big-league debut at the point his first appearance occurs with the Padres. Buddy Black indicated that Burns would pitch in a relief role, while Wells’ spot in the rotation would likely go to Eric Stults, the exact day to be determined early in the upcoming series against the Cubs beginning on Monday.
Injured players are progressing, according to Buddy Black. Tim Stauffer (strained right elbow) is slated to pitch tomorrow in single-A Lake Elsinore, as his rehab continues. Joe Thatcher (right knee tendonitis) and Yasmani Grandal (strained right oblique) are “feeling better”, but so far, no timetable has been set for rehab and the path to their return from the disabled list. Anthony Bass (right shoulder inflammation) is scheduled to begin throwing in the bull pen on the mound next week.
Saturday will see the Padres send Edinson Volquez (7-7, 3.51) to the mound against former Padres farmhand Jeremy Hefner (1-4, 5.22) of the Mets. Game time is 5:35 PM PSDT. As always, XX 1090 AM will give the call on radio while Fox Sports San Diego will televise.