Dickey looks to maintain rhythm for Braves vs. A's (Jul 01, 2017)

BY AP • July 1, 2017

OAKLAND, Calif. -- It's seldom easy for hitters to face a knuckleball pitcher, especially one who's on a hot streak.

That's the challenge facing the Oakland Athletics on Saturday against Atlanta Braves knuckleballer R.A. Dickey in second game of a three-game series at the Oakland Coliseum.

In three of his past four starts, Dickey has allowed one or no runs and pitched at least seven innings. He has won back-to-back starts, beating San Francisco and Milwaukee.

He held the Giants scoreless on three hits over seven innings on June 19 in a 9-0 win. Then on Saturday, Dickey gave up one run on five hits against the Brewers in a 6-5 victory.

"I kind of phrase it as his rhythm is really good with it," Braves manager Brian Snitker said before Friday night's 3-1 victory Oakland. "He's not appearing to be trying to overthrow it. He's just letting it happen. He's been really good.

"It's a learning experience for me because I've never managed a knuckleballer until now. He'll keep me posted inning to inning or wherever he's at and how he feels with it, but it's been good. It just looks like he's in a good rhythm with it. The release point's good and consistent. It's been working really well."

Dickey will face an A's team that had no hits through eight innings Friday night against Mike Foltynewicz before rookie Matt Olson ended his no-hit bid with a leadoff homer in the ninth. Jed Lowrie had Oakland's only other hit, a double off closer Jim Johnson, who struck out the next three batters to end the game.

Dickey had six strikeouts and one walk against the Brewers and vs. the Giants.

A's manager Bob Melvin said he struggled against knuckleball pitchers during his playing career and understands how difficult facing them can be.

"There's really no training for it," Melvin said. "It's not like we're going to throw knuckleballs in the cage. I don't know that anybody has one here. But you just try to track it, see it up a little bit, and usually if you can get one up it's not moving as much. So that's what we'll try to do."

A handful of A's have hit home runs off Dickey.

Khris Davis, in fact, has two homers in three career at-bats against him. Matt Joyce, Ryon Healy, Rajai Davis and Adam Rosales each have one career home run vs. Dickey.

Dickey, who won the National League Cy Young Award in 2012 with the Mets, spent the previous four seasons with Toronto before signing with Atlanta as a free agent on Nov. 18, 2016.

A's rookie right-hander Paul Blackburn will be called up from Triple-A Nashville and make his major-league debut against Atlanta. He'll start in place of right-hander Jharel Cotton (right thumb blister), whose next start will be pushed back a couple more days.

Blackburn went 5-6 with a 3.05 ERA in 15 games, including 14 starts, for Nashville. He has 56 strikeouts and 26 walks in 79 2/3 innings.

The A's acquired Blackburn from Seattle in exchange for infielder Danny Valencia in a Nov. 12 trade after last season.

"It's exciting," said Blackburn, who arrived in Oakland before Friday night's game. "I haven't really been able to take everything in. Right now, it still feels like a dream. It's awesome, and I'm excited for it."

Blackburn is a Bay Area native and attended Heritage High School in Brentwood, some 45 miles east of Oakland. He expects to have a large contingent of family and friends at his major-league debut.

"Family, friends, everyone's excited," Blackburn said. "I'm excited to be here. I'm just looking forward to the game and having fun with it. There's going to be a decent amount of people here, definitely. Parents, grandparents, uncles and lots of friends will be here."