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A Conversation With R.A. Dickey, Part Three

Below is part three of four of my interview with R.A. Dickey. You can read part one here and part two here. Tomorrow the series will conclude with some more reader-submitted questions, R.A.'s message to Mets fans, and his recommendations for the Amazin' Avenue Book Club. 

Sam Page: What about game-to-game consistency, what's your preparation like? Because there's not a lot of "what pitch am I going to throw?"

R.A. Dickey: Yea. And that's what's beautiful about it. When I go on a mound, I don't have to work on fastballs down and away. I just throw knuckleballs...for an hour. And the great thing about it is I can throw off a mound more than conventional pitchers, because I'm operating at about 70% capacity, where they're operating at 100, max effort usually. That allows me to work on my craft off the mound more than most guys. And part of my preparation to be able to be consistent is taking advantage of what the knuckleball allows me to do. And that's to throw a lot, to really get a feel for what a great knuckleball feels like out of your hand.

And when you throw a good knuckleball, it's unlike any other pitch that you ever throw in that you know immediately that nobody's going to hit it. Like you throw and you're like, "There's no chance that this is going to get hit." And it's different than any other pitch you throw. So, that's a neat sensation. It's a sensation that I really enjoy trying to duplicate over and over and over again.

I'll start, then I'll take a day of rest off, maybe watch some film, and then the very next day after that, I'm in the bullpen throwing again. Repetition, repetition, repetition is the name of the game for me. Continually getting off the mound, repeating my delivery, repeating my mechanics, in a way that I know when I get out there I wont have to be going through some mental check list: "Is my hand in the right place? Is my stride-length long enough? Am I staying over the rubber long enough? Is my wrist position in the right place?" I don't have to do that anymore. That's how I started, but it's really come to a place where it's pretty organic. Now I just react and can be instinctual with it. And that's really fun.

SP: Could you pitch on much shorter rest than a typical five days?

RD: Yea, absolutely. In fact, last year I threw on two-and-a-half days rest once. The year before that, I threw countless times on no days rest. I was out of the pen in Minnesota and threw three, four days in a row, no problem. And then in Seattle, I would start and then the very next day be in the bullpen. The next day. So it allows you to do some things that ordinary guys can't do and hopefully that's a real asset to a team. Last year, in fact, I started a game at the end of the season. That was my last start of the year, against Milwaukee. I was in the pen and threw an inning out of the pen two days later.

SP: Are you going to talk to Terry? Jerry took you out a little earlier than you might have wanted last year...

RD: I think Terry and I are going to start by having really open lines of communication, so he'll know what to expect out of me and I'll know what to expect out of him as a manager. With Jerry, it was such a learn-about-each-other-on-the-fly, that it was nobody's fault, just kind of the way it was. He didn't really know me or trust what I could do, because he didn't have a lot of exposure to me. Terry's been in the organization. He's seen me pitch quite a few times. He followed me last year and he knows what I'm capable of doing. So I think there's going to be a real easy transition there. Throwing 130 pitches in a game is not a big deal to me, if I'm going good and keeping the hitters at bay. If I'm getting blown up--that's another thing--you've got to get me out of there, like anybody else. I think that it's going to be a nice transition. He knows I want the ball, I want to throw and I want to finish what I start.

SP: Do you know if you're having a good game, the same way you know if you've thrown a good knuckleball--feel it or you can't?

RD: I used to think that. I used to think that it was like that, because that was my experience. Another component to having success with this pitch is now I know that, if I don't have it for an inning or two, I can still find it. I remember a game in particular against the Houston Astros, where the first three innings were the worst I ever felt throwing a knuckleball. I was able to escape some jams and get out of some innings, because I threw enough of my other stuff to survive. But then, after the third inning came and went, I was able to find it again. So, to answer your question, I don't necessarily believe anymore that I have to go into an outing with my A+ knuckeball in order to win. I've gone out there, probably five out of the eleven times I won last year with a "five out of ten" knuckelball and it's kind of matured over the course of the game to an "eight out of ten." Which is great, that I can go in and still be confident I can get the job done, not having my best feel.

SP: So mound presence is just as important, even though you're not throwing max effort? People might think you're more relaxed, but you're competing...

RD: It's more important now than it ever has been for me. Phil Niekro shared with me a thing that I've really kept close to my heart, as far as pitching goes, and that's: I throw a bad knuckleball, or I throw a great knuckleball, or I throw one that goes behind the hitter's head, or throw one that he swings and misses and hits him, or whatever I do, always act like I meant to do it. Because the hitter doesn't know the difference, when you throw a knuckleball. That's what I've always tried to do. From one pitch to the next, it's always been because that's what I wanted to do to you. I've kind of taken that and tried to grow it and really feel like that's an important thing. You never want to give the hitter any inclination that you're not confident in what you're doing, or that you don't have it that day, or that you had no idea where it's going. Thusly, mound presence is a huge deal as a knuckleballer.