ATLANTA — During his introduction as one half of the Braves' new 40-something pitching duo, R.A. Dickey dispelled a notion that has followed him as a knuckleballer.
He doesn't need a personal catcher. He just needs someone willing to put in the work.
“The perception is kind of out there that you have to have a specialized catcher to do it,” Dickey said Friday in the teams' offices across from SunTrust Park. “The truth of the matter is, you don't. You have to have a guy that wants to do it and wants to get the reps in and is willing to stay after, catch all the pens and really get after it and learn it and they'll figure it out.”
Atlanta had a stated need to add another catcher alongside Tyler Flowers, the only backstop currently under contract at the MLB level. But with Dickey's take as a guide, it may not mean bringing in a catcher to pair with the 2012 Cy Young winner.
General manager John Coppolella has already discussed Dickey with Flowers. He did so a week into the offseason when the Braves initially targeted the knuckleballer, who was 10-15 with a 4.46 ERA in 30 games last season for the Blue Jays, and Flowers was receptive.
“He felt like he could do it and he would try his best,” Coppolella said. “He said that it was always hard for him when he would have to face R.A., because he would get kind of screwed up for three or four days after seeing that. … We will see if we make any trades or sign any free agent catchers, and that will be a part of that conversation as well.”
There is an area where the addition of a knuckleballer is certain to have an impact and that's with new full-time manager Brian Snitker, and the act of, well, managing Dickey.
Since 2010, Dickey has thrown fewer than 208 innings just once. He's a workhorse with a pitch that's not as taxing on his arm, and knowing when he's it's time to pull him isn't always as clear as it is with other pitchers.
From that end, he's always strived to keep a dialogue going with his skippers.
“An open line of communication is vital as far as I'm concerned with my pitch, because I can walk three in the first and give up three runs and then go seven scoreless when they don't even put a bat on a ball because of the nature of the pitch,” Dickey said. “Those kind of conversations over the course of a season will probably occur, but Snit is great. He's been around it enough and knows enough knuckleballers to know you kind of just have to sit on your hands and wait.”
One year after leading the majors in innings pitched by players 24 years or younger, Atlanta flipped the script by bringing in Dickey, and Bartolo Colon, 43, the '05 winner in the American League. Both were inked to one-year deals, Dickey for $8 million and Colon for $12.5 million.
It wasn't a departure from the plan to develop the young arms general manager John Coppolella, president of baseball operations John Hart and Co. have spent the past two years accumulating. Instead, it was about bringing in two inning eaters who can take the pressure off those youngsters.
“These won't theoretically block any of our kids,” Coppolella said. “It will give them more time, guys that may have been force-fed up here, now have more time to get their sea legs under them as they turn into really good major league pitchers.”
The Braves now have a rotation that could project to be Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz, Dickey and Colon, with the fifth spot a question mark. Josh Collmenter (who re-upped for next season) is a possibility, as is Matt Wisler or another of the host of young arms.
Although there remains the chance the Braves could still be players, being linked to Chris Archer, Sonny Gray and Chris Sale. But it's unlikely anyone else they bring in is another member of the 40-something club.
A revelation hit Dickey when heard about the addition of Colon. Stunningly, the third-oldest player in baseball — behind his new teammate and Ichiro Suzuki, who is also 43 — wasn't going to be the oldest player on the team.
“I told my wife 'Hey, Big Sexy (Bartolo Colon) is coming over,'” Dickey said. “I gave myself the name Little Ugly. So Big Sexy and Little Ugly are going to be leading it off.”