DUNEDIN, Fla. – The brotherhood of knuckleballers held a rare get-together Monday afternoon with R.A. Dickey and Steven Wright facing off and Tim Wakefield looking on.
The unheralded Wright had the smoother start on a 27 C day before 4,824 fans at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium as a Boston Red Sox split-squad defeated the Toronto Blue Jays 4-2.
But despite taking the loss, Dickey was happy with his first outing of the spring.
“Today was just ‘How does it feel out of your hand with your adrenalin going? Off the slope of the mound, in a game situation?’ ” he said. “And I was really pleased. I threw a lot of strikes. I bet I was 0-2 on 80 per cent of the hitters or 1-2 on 70 to 80 per cent of the hitters and that’s always a good sign for me.”
The game marked the return of former Jays manager John Farrell, who asked out after two seasons to take over the Red Sox. He was greeted by boos during player introductions.
The game was a rare matchup of knuckleballers, albeit at very different stages of their career.
Dickey, 38, is coming off a Cy Young Award last year with the New York Mets.
A decade younger, Wright played for one double-A and two triple-A teams last season. In six minor-league seasons, the right-hander is 38-33 with a 3.95 ERA but he has only been throwing the knuckleball for two years.
But the minor leaguer had the better day, giving up no runs on two hits and three strikeouts. He threw 40 pitches, 25 for strikes in earning the win.
“I thought he was great. Very impressive,” Toronto manager John Gibbons said of Wright.
Dickey had a rougher start, giving up singles to three of the first four batters he faced. Jarrod Saltalamacchia drove one run in before a wild pitch brought Jackie Bradley Jr. home with one out. The inning could have been worse but Saltalamacchia was thrown out trying to take third on a fly ball.
Dickey, like Wright throwing in the 70s in terms of velocity, yielded another single in the second but was rescued by a double play. He threw 34 pitches, 24 for strikes with one walk.
“I was happy that I threw a large strike percentage today,” he said. “All in all I felt real good.
“I just want to be able to continue my delivery and throw a lot of strikes,” he added. “And today I was able to do that.”
Dickey believes it was his first start against a fellow knuckleballer, although he has faced the retired Wakefield in relief. Wakefield is now a part-time TV analyst who has been helping Wright with his pitch.
The knuckleballers made the most of the day. Wright texted Dickey before the game and Dickey got to talk with Wakefield.
Dickey was followed by six-foot-seven newcomer Josh Johnson, who threw two scoreless innings and seemed to find his groove as his stint wore on. He threw 31 pitches, including 19 strikes, giving up one hit and hitting a batter while striking out two.
“The problem with me is I always get the adrenalin going maybe a little too much,” Johnson said. “The second innings are always better for me. I’ve always had trouble the first inning and being able to calm down and relax and just getting too amped up. That’s kind of what happened today. I’ve just got to learn from it.”
The hit batsman came from a new pitch — a comeback sinker.
“Very good. I’ve been impressed with him from Day 1,” was Gibbons’ assessment of Johnson.
Right-hander Allen Webster followed Wright and racked up four straight strikeouts in his two innings, at times hitting 97 miles an hour on the speed gun.
Melky Cabrera put Toronto (2-2) on the board in the third, with his second double of the game driving Jose Reyes home.
Boston made it 3-1 in the sixth before Edwin Encarnacion slugged his first homer of the pre-season in the sixth, cutting the lead to 3-2.
Boston (2-2) added an insurance run in the ninth on an RBI single from Bradley.
NOTES — Toronto acquired some depth at first base in the form of Lars Anderson from the Chicago White Sox. The 25-year-old batted .125 in eight games with Boston last season. The Jays were looking for some insurance at the position after David Cooper was sidelined with a back injury. To make room on the 40-man roster, pitcher Kyle Drabek was transferred to the 60-day disabled list …. Ricky Romero starts Tuesday for Toronto against visiting Minnesota.