Dickey understands move to bullpen
Knuckleballer finds more success in relief than as starter
MINNEAPOLIS -- The big picture shows that right-hander R.A. Dickey and the Mariners probably are better off if he's available to pitch several days a week instead of once every fifth or sixth day.And while he acknowledges that he was a little disappointed when told that he was being moved back to the bullpen, after further review, Dickey understands that the move makes a lot of sense. "The big advantage of being in the 'pen is I don't have to rest as much [as other relievers]," the knuckleball specialist said on Saturday. "That is a good asset to have." Throwing a knuckleball three times out of four pitches doesn't put as much strain on an elbow or shoulder as it does throwing a fastball, slider or curve. A knuckleball pitcher basically plays catch, throwing an occasional fastball to keep hitters honest. Therefore, a knuckleball pitcher can bounce back faster than a conventional pitcher, giving the manager a valuable commodity. And that is one of the reasons that Dickey has been reassigned -- again -- to the Mariners bullpen, probably for the remainder of this season and possibly next season, as well, although his contract expires at the end of the season. "I think all along that [pitching coach] Mel [Stottlemyre], and R.A. have felt than in a perfect world, the best way for him to help the club is out of the bullpen," manager Jim Riggleman said. Statistics show that Dickey favors the bullpen. "I've had pretty good success out of the bullpen," he said, "so there is something to be said for that." As a starter, he has a record of 2-7 with a 6.03 ERA in 12 starts over 68 2/3 innings. In 10 relief appearances, including two scoreless innings in Friday night's loss to the Twins, he is 1-0 with a 1.67 ERA in 27 innings. Opposing batters are hitting .186 against him when he pitches in relief, compared to .313 as a starter. "When something is taken away from you, you feel a little disappointed," Dickey said . "But the reality is that as a team we are trying to evaluate what we have, and I get that. I'm not going to a place I'm totally uncomfortable. "I feel I can do a good job there for a long time." Dickey said he talked to both Stottlemyre and Riggleman and reached a conclusion that: "It might be good for me, long term." Seattle needs to look at assembling a rotation for next season. Right-handers Felix Hernandez and Carlos Silva, along with injured left-hander Erik Bedard, surely will return next season; Miguel Batista will have to fight to get himself back into the rotation, and left-hander Jarrod Washburn could be traded during the offseason. Young lefties Ryan Rowland-Smith and Ryan Feierabend -- Seattle's starters in the final two games of this series against the Twins -- will be spending the remainder of this season auditioning for rotation roles in '09. So will right-hander Brandon Morrow, who is going through a crash course in starting at Triple-A Tacoma. He's expected to become part of the rotation around Sept. 1. While Dickey hasn't completely given up on the idea of starting again, possibly even this season, he believes his new bread-and-butter pitch will get even better. He points out that six of his nine starts were quality starts (three or fewer runs in six innings) and the high ERA as a starter primarily was because of three outings -- when he twice surrendered eight runs and was roughed up for seven runs another time. "Those three outings skew the overall numbers," he said. "I feel I am going to get better. This is only my third year of throwing [a knuckleball] and I have a better feel for it. I made big strides this year, even from last year, and the possibility of going down to Atlanta and working with Phil Niekro during the offseason makes it even better." Niekro, a Hall of Fame pitcher whose specialty was the knuckler, told Mariners Hall of Fame announcer Dave Niehaus during last month's induction ceremonies in Cooperstown that he would be more than happy to work with Dickey on the pitch. "We've exchanged phone messages twice," Dickey said, "but I haven't talked to him."
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.