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09/20/05 10:40 PM ET
Notes: Dickey trying to learn knuckler
Under tutelage of Hough, righty hopes to add rare pitch
By Mark Thoma / MLB.com
ANAHEIM -- There is a small but close-knit community of knuckleball pitchers current and former, a fraternity into which Rangers right-hander R.A. Dickey was inducted on Tuesday. Charlie Hough, who won 218 Major League games in his career with the Dodgers, Rangers, White Sox and Marlins, spent 90 minutes in the Angels bullpen on Tuesday afternoon, passing on to Dickey the secrets he learned from his knuckleballing forefathers, Hoyt Wilhelm and Phil Niekro. And Dickey, the aspiring knuckleballer who is 1-0 with a 6.39 ERA since joining the rotation on Sept. 13, passed the initiation. He impressed Hough with his arm and the movement on his knuckler. Dickey was impressed, too, after an enlightening hour and a half with a 25-year Major League veteran. "It was a transforming experience for me," Dickey said. "I learned more in 90 minutes with him than I did in three months by myself and working with people who never threw the knuckleball." Dickey spoke with the reverence of someone who's just gotten an unexpected gift, and he's already planning to spend time working with Hough, who lives in the Los Angeles area, this offseason. As someone who's tutored pupils both successful and not, Hough was optimistic about Dickey's chances. "I think he's pretty good. ... He has a chance to be a real knuckleballer," Hough said. "He's got an advantage over me in that he's got a [much] better arm." Dickey believes his experience as a conventional pitcher in the Major Leagues -- he's posted a 5.53 ERA in 252 1/3 innings -- will help him make the most of his improving knuckler. "I know how to pitch," he said. "Even when I don't have a great knuckleball, I can still manage counts with my other pitches." During their bullpen session, Hough talked to Dickey about the philosophy of the knuckler -- when to throw it, how hard to throw it -- as well as the mechanics of Dickey's delivery. Hough made one important adjustment to Dickey's grip that helps take spin off the pitch, which ideally approaches the plate without any rotation, making its movement more unpredictable. "He'll change his spot on the ball and realize mechanically it's closer to being a normal pitcher than you might think and it's hugely important to develop a release point that's repeatable," Hough said. "[We were] trying to get where his thumb and ring finger can get out of the way so it doesn't impede the ball." Dickey seemed to connect with Hough, and is looking forward to speaking with him again, having programmed his number into his cell phone. "Obviously, it's a work in progress, but what a guy," Dickey said. "[He's a] great communicator. I understood what he was talking about, [and] saw him do it, so it was real encouraging." Hough pitched for the Rangers from 1980-1990, including an All-Star season in 1986. Hough was 139-136 with Texas, with ERAs ranging from 2.96 to 4.35. Gold Glove contender: First baseman Mark Teixeira leads the Major Leagues in fielding percentage (.999), having made only two errors. He's also posted a 9.81 range factor and .898 zone rating, both imperfect measures that nonetheless reflect the plus range he brings to the position. Finally, his 97 assists are second most in the league. Accordingly, manager Buck Showalter believes Teixeira deserves this year's American League Gold Glove at first base. "I've had a front-row seat. I can't imagine anyone having a better year defensively than he's had," Showalter said. "He'll catch every ball, even if it's the ninth inning of a 15-0 game, [with] good ball security. ... He's a very impactful player at first base." Managers generally prefer their first basemen to be left-handed, due to the advantages it offers in holding runners on, but Showalter has seen a significant advantage in Teixeira having a non-traditional glove hand. "People talk about left-handed first basemen, but the thing with a right-handed first baseman is [that] he can play the line. It allows me to not play [closer to] the line late in games," Showalter said. "He's like a huge condor." Streaking shortstop: Entering Tuesday, Michael Young was batting 25-for-66 (.379) during a 16-game hitting streak. During the streak, Young's average has climbed from .323 to a league-leading .329, 10 points better than the .319 average of second-ranked hitter Johnny Damon. Young enters the Angels series with 205 hits, only 11 shy of the club record he set last season (216) with 12 games remaining. On deck: Kameron Loe (9-5, 3.58 ERA) will go after win No. 10 on Wednesday at 9:05 p.m. CT, when he faces the Angels' John Lackey (12-5, 3.46 ERA) in a matchup of tall right-handers. Lackey, a Texas native, is 6-1 with a 2.43 ERA since the All-Star break. Loe, a California native, is 4-1 with a 2.32 ERA since joining the starting rotation.
Mark Thoma is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.