SAN FRANCISCO -- R.A. Dickey is finally healthy and the former National League Cy Young Award winner hopes that means his season is starting to get on track.
Toronto's No. 1 starter battled an upper back and neck injury for at least the first six weeks of the season, and as a result his performance on the mound clearly suffered.
The health issues now appear to be a thing of the past and Dickey started the process of turning his season around by coming within two outs of a complete game in the Blue Jays' 4-0 victory over the Giants on Wednesday afternoon at AT&T Park.
"I was changing speeds a lot today, which was good," said Dickey, who allowed just two hits. "I was able to throw a 63-64 mph [knuckleball] for a strike and I was able to throw a 79 mph one for a strike.
"As I've gotten healthier, I felt like I've been able to have a latitude to be able to do that. Before, it was just trying to muster everything I could to survive an outing, and recently I've felt a bit better."
Dickey hasn't missed a start this season, but the injury woes made an impact in other areas. His velocity was down early in the season and as a result, he had to constantly alter his release point to help compensate.
That created all sorts of problems as Dickey began to lose control of his knuckleball. It's a notoriously tough pitch to command, but Dickey mastered it while pitching for the Mets from 2010-12. He walked just 54 batters in each of the past two seasons, but when Dickey entered Wednesday's outing in San Francisco, he already had 32 this year.
Even as Dickey began to feel healthier in late May, the release point was a cause of concern. Now that he's had a few starts under his belt post-injury, Dickey has begun to fix his mechanics, and perhaps his start vs. the Giants is a sign that things are about to turn around.
"You fall into some bad patterns and bad habits when you're trying to compensate for an injury," said Dickey, who walked just two batters on a pair of 3-2 counts. "It has taken a couple of outings here to get back to my foundational mechanics, which I had today. Maybe I can just grow from there."
Dickey carried a perfect game into the fourth inning until he surrendered a sharp two-out single off the bat of Pablo Sandoval. He quickly recovered and went on to face just one batter over the minimum through seven innings before a walk in the eighth during his dominating performance.
The outing will easily go down as Dickey's best start to date in a Toronto uniform. He entered the ninth having allowed just the one hit, but was pulled with one out after a single by Gregor Blanco and a walk to Marco Scutaro. Closer Casey Janssen came on to close things out with his 12th save of the year.
Dickey was coming off a pair of back-to-back losses in which he allowed six earned runs. Despite the overall struggles, he has found a way to overmatch the Giants lineup, and in his two starts versus them this year, he has allowed just two runs over 14 1/3 innings of work.
"He was great," Blanco said. "He threw great pitches, up and down [in the strike zone] and did a great job. ... [His knuckleball] is different. It's got a lot of movement. You don't know where the ball is going to go."
Dickey was being matched pitch for pitch by Giants left-hander Barry Zito until the Blue Jays batted around during a four-run fifth inning. The 38-year-old helped his own cause during that frame by faking a bunt and then slashing a ground ball past Sandoval at third base. The ball rolled all the way into the left-field corner while Dickey ended up on second with an RBI double.
It's a designed move that Dickey said he practiced in the past while playing for Mets and again this year while working in the batting cage prior to the start of Interleague Play. The native of Nashville now has two hits in six at-bats this season and a total of 36 hits during his 11-year career.
"You play the game in your head before you ever get to the plate -- at least you should," Dickey said of his third career extra-base hit. "When I saw both Panda and [Brandon] Belt crashing at the same time, it was a 'slug one' the whole way for me.
"I had played it out in my mind that that's what I was going to do if I felt those guys closing in on me. I had a lot of practice in the National League and have done that quite a bit, I work on that in the cage, so it wasn't a shock to me."
When the inning continued, Jose Bautista followed a couple of batters later with an RBI single while Mark DeRosa really broke things open with a two-run single up the middle. Zito was charged with all four runs on seven hits while walking three in his fourth loss of the year.
With the victory, Toronto finished its seven-game road trip through Atlanta, San Diego and San Francisco with a 3-4 record. The club now sits at nine games below .500 and will enjoy an off-day Thursday before opening a three-game set vs. the Rangers on Friday night at Rogers Centre.