Grading Team USA's R.A. Dickey at the 2013 World Baseball Classic

Matthew Appleby@@applebyincContributor IIMarch 14, 2013

PHOENIX, AZ - MARCH 08:  Starting pitcher R.A. Dickey #34 of the United States throws a pitch against Mexico during the World Baseball Classic First Round Group D game at Chase Field on March 8, 2013 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

When R.A. Dickey got the start in game one of the World Baseball Classic, Toronto Blue Jays and USA baseball fans immediately swooned. They had a chance to see the reigning Cy Young winner pitch a meaningful game in March—can life get better?

The honeymoon phase was put to an abrupt end once he toed the rubber on March 8 against Mexico. On Dickey’s first pitch, Eduardo Arredondo roped a sharply hit single—his first of three hits on the night.

Dickey gave up two runs in the first inning, and the outs he was able to record came via well-hit balls directly at fielders. Right from the start, it was clear the Mexican hitters were seeing the knuckleball well.

The production continued for the Mexican hitters who racked up six hits off Dickey in his four innings of work. In the third inning, Adrian Gonzalez hit a two-run home run to make it 4-0 Mexico, a deficit Team USA was never able to recover from.

So what went wrong for Dickey?

Dickey’s knuckleball is a unique breed of pitch. It is thrown a little harder than its predecessors and has slightly less movement over the course of its trip to the plate. 

When Dickey’s knuckleball is at its most lethal, it has very little movement for the majority of its trajectory and then has a sharp movement during the last six-10 inches of flight.

On this night, Dickey’s knuckleball rarely had that lethal last-second movement that baffles hitters. It became fodder for the Mexican batters as it floated toward the plate. Without the movement, his pitches became glorified hanging breaking balls.

In the fourth inning, Dickey appeared to settle into a groove. He retired the only three batters he faced in the inning and finished off his outing with a strikeout of Gil Velazquez.

Dickey’s final stat line was 4.0 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 0 BB, 2 SO, 9.00 ERA.

It was not an ideal start for Dickey, the USA baseball team or Blue Jays fans who were excited to see their new ace in action.

However, there were some positives that Dickey and the Blue Jays can take away from this game.

It appeared that J.P. Arencibia was able to adequately handle Dickey’s knuckleball behind the plate. Admittedly, the knuckleball is much easier to catch when it does not move wildly, but the least Blue Jays fans can hope for is that Arencibia is making positive strides in learning to catch the pitch.

Dickey also showed off a very strong pickoff move to first base. This is crucial for a knuckleball pitcher, since their trademark pitch moves relatively slowly. He was not able to produce an out via pickoff, but he was able to keep runners from advancing.

Grade for game one: C+

Fast forward to Thursday night when Dickey was called on again to pitch against the Dominican Republic. It was a massive game with a trip to the semifinals on the line.

Dickey started out much stronger in this game, retiring the first four batters he faced. His knuckleball had more movement on it, and the results were immediately apparent.

The fourth batter Dickey faced was Hanley Ramirez, who smacked a solo home run in the second inning. It was the first of four hits he surrendered on the night, and the only run he gave up.

Dickey lasted five innings and left the game with the score tied 1-1. His command was strong, the pitch was moving and he was able to retire hitters.

Dickey also fielded his position very well. He snagged a line drive off the bat of Blue Jays teammate Edwin Encarnacion for the final out of the third inning and aptly covered first base multiple times on ground balls to first baseman Eric Hosmer.

In the third inning, Dickey was able to use his strong pickoff move to catch Alejandro De Aza for the first out of the inning. This proved to be a huge out, as Dickey then proceeded to give up two singles that could have put the Dominican Republic up 2-1.

Although the Dominican Republic rallied late to win 3-1, Dickey pitched five solid innings and gave his team a chance to win.

Dickey's final stat line was 5.0 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 SO, 1.80 ERA.

Grade for game two: A-

The atmosphere in Miami for Dickey’s second start may have indicated otherwise, but the World Baseball Classic is in the middle of spring training. Expectations have to be altered for games played so early.

The Blue Jays should be happy with what they have seen from Dickey so far. He has shown marked improvement, and best of all, he has not gotten injured.


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