LOS ANGELES, Calif. – A perfect storm of unfriendly constitution blew into Dodger Stadium Saturday night, whisking away a struggling offense’s ability to right itself amidst the ineffective cacophony of flailing bats and battered hope. R.A. Dickey, now two starts removed from back-to-back one hitters, allowed three hits over eight scoreless innings and struck out 10 batters while winning his Major League-leading 12th game as part of a 9-0 victory over the injury-depleted Dodgers Friday night.
“Every team goes through little ruts here and there,” Dickey said before the series opener. “We’ve certainly been through our own, and I certainly know that we’ve been swept, and then we’ve turned around and swept people. So they’re not to be taken lightly by any stretch of the imagination, regardless of who’s in the lineup.”
For Los Angeles, Dickey was probably the pitcher in the National League they’d be least encouraged to face with one win in their 10 previous games entering Friday’s action and with one homerun in their last 15 games following their fourth shutout in five games. They’ve lost six in a row.
The Dodgers have been held scoreless in 47 of their last 48 innings at the plate, their lone success coming on an Elian Herrera RBI triple and Juan Rivera RBI single that accounted for all of their scoring in a 3-2 loss to the Mets Thursday night.
The question at this point is what effect Dickey’s mastery will have on a Dodger team setting new lows for offensive futility. If it has been suggested at times that facing a knuckleballer can throw off a hitter’s mechanics and comfort at the plate, could this serve as a double negative? Could the L.A. offense be shocked into production?
“I don’t know if there’s ever a good time, really,” manager Don Mattingly said about facing a knuckleballer. “With a guy like him, obviously we’re not the only club at this point he’s given trouble to. For us not really seeing him, To me, if you’re in the east, and you see this guy three, four times, maybe you could come up with a little better game plan, how you want to deal with him. It’s tough to kind of look at tape and say, ‘how are we going to attack this guy?’ and know what you’re dealing with.”
Dickey’s knuckleball is thrown with a greater velocity than that of previous major league knuckleballers. Sitting in the mid-to-upper 70’s and often reaching the low 80’s, Dickey has the ability to change up speeds with the pitch. On Thursday, he said the lowest the pitch had ever been clocked was at 59 miles per hour, and that he’s received plenty of advice from former major league knuckleballers Phil Niekro, Tim Wakefield and Tom Candiotti.
“That may be a difference between me and the Jedi counsel of knuckleballers, we’ll say,” Dickey said of the extra velocity on his pitch. “Those guys who have poured into me in a real generous way have all taught me something that I’ve been able to use. Everybody’s got a very unique personality, and part of my personality with the pitch is that I throw it a little bit harder. So I’ve tried to work off that and figure out what’s comfortable as far as being able to throw strikes with it and working off that pitch. It’s worked out well, and we’ll just keep rolling with it.”
Rolling with it, he has. Bouncing back from a six-inning, five-run outing against a potent New York Yankees lineup on national television last Sunday, Dickey continued to dominate opposing batters to the tune of a 12-1 record and a 2.15 ERA. It’s success that he anticipated prior to the start of the season.
“I tell people all the time I have a pretty big imagination, so I visualize myself with this pitch being successful. Now, to what degree? That may have taken me by surprise somewhat. But I feel like I’m not doing anything differently than I have the past couple of years,” he said.
With an All-Star appearance a certainty, will Tony LaRussa choose him as the National League’s starter come July 10 at Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium?
“I think every little boy imagines playing in an All Star Game, so in that regard, it would be a real honor, obviously. I mean, that’s the cliché,” Dickey said.
“I think, more than that, it would give a real legitimacy to what I do as a knuckleball pitcher. I think there are camps of people out there who don’t view it as a very legitimate thing. A gimmicky thing, if you will. And I think if I’m fortunate enough to make the All-Star Team, it would give some legitimacy, I think.”
That was of little concern to the Dodgers, whose lineup had difficulty going deep in counts or getting any type of rhythm going until perhaps the eighth inning. Dickey didn’t throw more than 17 pitches in any inning against L.A.
“Usually when you’re getting to a guy like that, you can get in some counts where he’s having trouble throwing the ball over the plate,” Mattingly said. “Usually when those guys get it over, they’re pretty good, and tonight he didn’t really walk anybody.