SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Diamondbacks pitcher Josh Booty, in camp after winning MLB Network’s “Next Knuckler” competition, got a first-hand look at the majors’ best — and only — knuckleballer Friday night when he watched R.A. Dickey warm up before his start for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic at Chase Field.
On a back field Sunday at the D-backs’ spring training facility, Booty will get his first look at hitters in a game situation since his days as a high school pitcher.
“It’ll be fun to just go against someone else,” Booty said. “It’s been a long time — since high school — since I pitched against somebody else. That’s ’94, if you’re counting — 19 years.”
D-backs manager Kirk Gibson penciled Booty in for a “B” game at Salt River Fields on Sunday morning against Giants minor-leaguers. Booty has thrown to hitters this spring, but this will be the first time he’ll throw against opponents in a game setting.
“His last bullpen was really good,” Gibson said. “I talked to him last week, Charley (pitching coach Charles Nagy) and I, to see where he was mentally. We watched him throw his bullpen, and he’s ready for this part. We’re kind of just progressing him along.”
Booty beat out four other former quarterbacks — his brother John David Booty, Doug Flutie, Ryan Perrilloux and David Greene — for an invitation to D-backs camp. Booty, a former Marlins prospect who spent parts of four years in the majors as an infielder, learned to throw a knuckleball on the show with the help of former major-league knuckleballers Tim Wakefield and Charlie Hough as well as D-backs broadcaster Tom Candiotti, a former knuckler himself.
Gibson said Booty — a one-time LSU quarterback — has spent much of his time in camp so far getting in shape and adjusting to throwing to actual hitters. Booty has apparently lost 10 to 15 pounds since joining the team Feb. 22. He has worked with Nagy and thus far faced live hitters three times.
“My arm feels good,” Booty said. “Yesterday, I threw a bullpen and my arm feels great today. I (feel) like I could pitch back-to-back days. This is the first time I’ve really felt that way.”
Booty had the chance to observe Dickey as he warmed up before Team USA’s 5-2 loss at Chase Field on Friday night. But with Dickey with Team USA at Salt River Fields, the aspiring knuckler and reigning Cy Young winner had already connected.
Booty initially met Dickey when the Blue Jays pitcher made a cameo on the MLB Network show. Dickey sat down with Booty recently to watch video of one of Booty’s bullpen sessions.
“He gave me some pointers. He said some good things, and he said some things I could improve on,” Booty said. “So I’m taking a little bit from Wakefield and a little bit from Candiotti and a little bit from Hough and R.A. and a little bit of what I feel comfortable with trying to be this hybrid knuckleballer.”
Booty also throws a fastball, which he estimates he can throw 87 to 90 mph. Gibson said that if Sunday’s outing goes well, Booty’s next step could be an appearance in a Cactus League game.