R. A. Dickey pitched a rough outing vs the Boston Red Sox this past Sunday, allowing 10 hits and 7 ER in the 4 2/3 innings he threw.
He displayed an uncharacteristic lack of control. Success in throwing a knuckleball is all about control.
It was revealed today that Dickey suffered a broken nail on his throwing hand during the first inning of the game. Anthopoulos stated that Dickey didn’t mention it, as he didn’t want to make a big deal of it. That is very characteristic of Dickey, not wanting to make excuses. But it is a big deal. And it has nothing to do with pain. It’s all about pitch control (or in this case a lack of). It’s also not the first time this has happened to Dickey.
In R A’s autobiography Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest For Truth, Authenticity, and the Perfect Knuckleball Dickey describes when he broke the nail on his right index finger during the Mets home opener in 2011: “The pressure of the nail against the horsehide causes the nail to split. This is not a good thing to happen to a knuckleball pitcher. It is, in fact, a horrible thing to happen to a knuckleball pitcher. Everything I do starts with the nails that grip the ball. If the nails aren’t right, I can’t grip the ball right, and bad things ensue.” He goes on to describe that throwing a knuckleball without the nail on his index finger is like “a quarterback trying to throw a pass without his pinkie“. Two days before Dickey’s next scheduled start, he busted the nail again in a bullpen session, spurting blood all over his hand and cracking the nail right down to the nail bed. What followed belonged in a movie. In full uniform, Dickey gets escorted by Theresa (one of the Mets cooks) to a local nail joint (Pink Nails, run by some lovely Korean ladies) to get some acrylic applied to the busted nail. Before you start making jokes about R A not being tough, remember that this man throws a knuckleball over 80 mph without an ucl (a ligament that stabilizes the elbow joint).
While these may sound like excuses to some, remember that baseball truly is a game of inches. Especially for a pitcher. Being able to control pitches to hit the corners of the plate often enough, makes you a success. Do it a high percentage of the time, you’ve got a decent career. Making a mistake and missing by three or four inches results in a ball over the middle of the plate. Make this mistake to the wrong hitter and they’ll take you deep. Make this mistake often enough, and you don’t stay at the big league level for long. Just ask Jeremy Jeffress and David Bush.
R A Dickey isn’t the first Jays pitcher to suffer from issues with the fingers on his throwing hand. Al Leiter spent many years of his Blue Jays career battling a blister issue on the fingers of his throwing hand. He finally solved the problem by soaking his hand in pickle brine to toughen up the skin. Leiter had other injury issues, but was able to overcome them enough to contribute to the Jays 1993 World Series Title (collecting a win in relief in Game 1, and even hit a double in Game 3).
Hopefully Dickey’s broken nail isn’t too serious this time around, and heals before his next start. Perhaps the Jays should make note of the local nail salons in the event it happens again. Or even hire a team aesthetician. But all joking aside, this can’t be more frustrating for anyone than Dickey. Read his book, and you will learn about the countless hours and effort he put into developing his knuckleball, to the point where he keeps a spare baseball in his car so he can practice his grip while he’s driving. His dedication to his craft is unmatchable, which obviously contributed to him winning the NL Cy Young award last year. If the Blue Jays can get through this season with nothing more than a rib-cage strain to Brett Lawrie, a twisted ankle for Jose Bautista, and a broken nail for R A Dickey, then they’ll be miles ahead of where they were last year.