Maybe Tim Wakefield hasn’t thrown his last pitch after all. The former Boston Red Sox knuckleball pitcher could be called upon several times during the upcoming 2013 season to throw batting practice in preparation for games in which new Toronto Blue Jays ace R.A. Dickey will be on the opposing mound.
Dickey was the NL Cy Young Award winner in 2012, with a record of 20-6, an ERA of 2.76, and 230 strikeouts in 233 innings. The Blue Jays acquired him in a well-publicized trade with the New York Mets over the winter. Needless to say, the Dickey trade should play a significant role in the outcome of the AL East race this year. This could spell trouble for the Red Sox, however, because when facing Dickey, they’ll find themselves at much more of a disadvantage then the rest of the division.
Other than Wakefield, who retired following the 2011 season after 17 years in Boston, the AL hasn’t seen a consistent knuckleball pitcher since the Detroit Tigers’ Steve Sparks was making the ball dance back in 2002. Since that time, the Red Sox have been the only team in MLB that hasn’t had to face a knuckleball pitcher on a regular basis. Dickey learned the pitch back in 2006, but he didn’t perfect it until his NL years in New York. During his three seasons with the Mets, Dickey never faced Boston.
What all of this means is that the majority of current Red Sox players have had very little experience hitting—or trying to hit—a knuckleball. Depending upon how Toronto’s pitching rotation works out, the Red Sox could see Dickey as many as five times this season. In a division that should be extremely competitive, those five games will be vastly important.
The Red Sox will need to lean on the expertise of Wakefield before these games. Though Dickey throws the ball much harder than Wakefield did, the Red Sox will welcome all the help they can get, even if that means sending “Wake” out to the mound for batting practice.
If there’s any silver lining at all in this situation, it’s this: Wakefield currently works as an analyst for the New England Sports Network—a company that happens to be owned by the Red Sox—so tracking him down shouldn’t be very difficult.