When Tim Wakefield was winding down I was worried that we’d not have any knuckleballers. Then R.A. Dickey emerged from years of obscurity. Dickey, of course, will not last forever, so we’re faced again with the possible extinction of knuckleballers.
Thank goodness there are two of them on Dagobah right now, learning from the knuckleball Yoda:
[Zach] Clark and [Eddie] Gamboa are getting plenty of help as they try to learn the finer points of the knuckleball. Pitching at Double-A Bowie, they’ve been receiving tutelage from Hall of Famer Phil Niekro, whose 318 career major league victories are the most ever by a knuckleballer.
They’re in the Orioles’ system and have been tasked by Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter to get crafty.
I still hope that one day the knuckler will re-emerge as just another pitch otherwise conventional pitchers have in their repertoire, as was the case for much of the 20th century. But having to live in a world where it is primarily seen as a means of salvaging otherwise stalled careers is better than nothing.
The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.
In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.
The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.
Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”
It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.
It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.