LOS ANGELES -- Mets catcher Josh Thole has taken knuckleballs off his chest protector and his mask, his arm and his thumb. He knows what it is like to catch a knuckleballer for the first time.
So if Giants catcher Buster Posey does not call him for advice this week, Thole may try to reach out to the National League's starting All-Star backstop. Given the overwhelming likelihood that Dickey will be the NL's starting pitcher in this month's 83rd All-Star Game, Posey should draw the assignment of catching him.
"It'd be a challenge, no question," Thole said. "But he's a good catcher. He can be back there and do it."
When Thole began catching Dickey in 2010, he sought out advice from former Red Sox backstop Doug Mirabelli, who made himself a valuable commodity in Boston by catching Tim Wakefield's knucklers with aplomb. Mirabelli offered Thole the framework for the catcher's stance he uses today: angled a bit toward the first-base bag in a more athletic squat.
Thole also uses a worn-down women's softball mitt to catch Dickey, which he plans to continue doing until the leather completely wears out. Like most knuckleballers, Dickey carries around his own oversized mitt that he will offer to Posey before the game. Rawlings recently approached Thole, Dickey and Mike Nickeas for advice on a prototype of a dedicated knuckleball mitt, which Thole believes will look something like the softball mitt he uses now.
But mostly, Thole said, Posey simply needs to spend time with Dickey before the game, playing catch and receiving a crash course on knuckling. Dickey's ball features so much late movement that a passed ball or two may be inevitable. But a half-hour of practice could make the difference between an adequate showing and an All-Star nightmare behind the plate.
"The first time Josh did it, he took five or six off the mask, and then he got it real quickly," Dickey said. "So I don't know how it's going to work out, but I certainly know that the people are capable out there of catching it."
It is hardly the first time Dickey will have to initiate a new catcher. Over the past three years, Nickeas, Rob Johnson, Ronny Paulino, Henry Blanco and Rod Barajas have all caught him with varying degrees of success. But no one has paired with Dickey more often than Thole, who credits most of his improvement to Mirabelli.
He is eager to dispense similar advice to Posey, should the All-Star catcher call.
"I don't know if he's every caught a knuckleball before, but it's different," Thole said. "I would give him the same advice Doug Mirabelli gave me, just exactly about the position of where you are behind home plate, how you set up. That would be the best advice I could give."
Outfielder Jason Bay, who suffered a concussion on June 15, will hit off a tee and run in front of the Mets' medical staff on Monday in New York. If all goes well with that workout, team doctors could clear him to begin baseball activities in Port St. Lucie, Fla.
Closer Frank Francisco will throw Monday off flat ground for the first time since straining his left oblique last weekend. Francisco could return to the Mets as soon as mid-July