ATLANTA — R.A. Dickey has been the most effective member of a currently struggling rotation for the Atlanta Braves.
The Braves hope Dickey’s effectiveness is enough to salvage the finale of a three-game series with the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday afternoon.
The fact that Dickey has been able to go 3-2 with a 3.94 ERA with his new team despite not having his signature pitch working consistently may be the most encouraging part of the 42-year-old’s success.
“I’m five starts in and I can honestly say I have yet to have my good knuckleball,” the 2012 National League Cy Young Award winner with the New York Mets said. “There are points to some games where I throw a good one that gets me out of some jams or helps me navigate innings. But I haven’t consistently had my good knuckleball.”
“That’s encouraging that I have been able to stay in some games and eat up some innings without it. But I look forward to not having to fight it so much.”
Manager Brian Snitker is working with a knuckleball pitcher for the first time and Kurt Suzuki was charged with three passed balls in Dickey’s first start.
“I have a lot of empathy for Kurt,” Dickey said.
In the last two starts, Dickey has had to deal with a sore calf. He’s battled through as his knuckler came and went. He gave up two homers on fastballs during his most recent start, a victory over the Mets.
“The thing about a knuckleball is you have to live with it inning by inning,” Dickey said.”
Dickey is 3-1 with a 4.09 ERA in seven games against the Cardinals, but his last victory came in 2012 his Cy Young season.
Dickey was traded to Toronto and had mixed results in the American League. The right-hander signed a one-year deal with the Braves over the winter and it has meant a transition time for the team, who is 11-17 with a team ERA of 4.91.
Dickey is coming off consecutive wins against the Mets. While he allowed a combined five earned runs and nine hits in 11 innings, the Braves also scored 16 runs in those games.
In contrast, Michael Wacha has seen his curveball regain its bite after he slumped to a 5.09 ERA last season after going 17-7 with a 3.38 ERA the previous year.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny described Wacha’s curveball as the best it’s ever been after his last outing, a no-decision against the Milwaukee Brewers Monday.
Wacha is 2-1 with a 3.23 ERA and has gone at least six innings in each of his five starts. He has given up two or less runs in three of those games and has held opponents to a .095 average (2-for-25) with runners in scoring position.
Wacha, 25, didn’t pitch against the Braves last year and this will be only his second career start against them. In three appearances versus Atlanta, the 6-foot-5 right-hander is 0-1 with a 3.12 ERA.
The Cardinals (15-14) have won the first two games 10-0 and 5-3 against the Braves (11-17). They and have won five straight in Atlanta dating back to Turner Field last season after losing nine of the previous 11 games.
St. Louis has a long injury list, with outfielder Jose Martinez (left groin injury) the most recent to go down.
The Cardinals have kept going, though, thanks to solid starting pitching and the recent hot hitting of shortstop Aledmys Diaz and first baseman Matt Carpenter.
Carpenter hit two-run homers in each of the first two games in the series, while Diaz was 7-for-8 with five RBIs.
“I think every year we go through stretches where guys get hurt,” Carpenter said. “It’s part of the game.”