PHOENIX — Many big-name pitchers found reason to say no to the World Baseball Classic. R.A. Dickey was an automatic yes.
The knuckleball master, winner of the NL Cy Young Award with the New York Mets last season now plying his unorthodox trade with Toronto, made it known before anyone asked him that he wished to play.
Now he will start for the United States in its WBC opener tonight against Mexico, something he calls “one of the greater privileges of my athletic career.”
At 38, Dickey is the oldest player on the U. S. roster. As such, he remembers being a part of the U.S. team at the 1996 Olympics and wants to atone for the disappointment of that bronze medal of 17 years ago.
“So this is a chance to redeem that in a lot of ways,” he said. “So I was proactive in wanting to be a part of this team. When I thought it was a possibility, I texted Tony Clark (of the MLB Players Association) and said, if there’s a spot and Joe wants me, I would love to do it.”
Needless to say, manager Joe Torre wanted him.
Dickey is one of three starting pitchers on the 28-man U.S. roster competing in Group D in Arizona and by far the biggest name. San Francisco’s Ryan Vogelsong will start Saturday night against Italy, with Texas’ Derek Holland going against Canada on Sunday.
Following round robin play, the top two teams advance to the second round next week in Florida. There, a fourth starter, Washington’s Gio Gonzalez will join the fray.
Under WBC rules, to keep pitchers on their normal spring training regimen, starters are limited to 65 pitches in the first round. With his knuckleball already in top form, Dickey figures that will be enough to make an impact against a Mexican lineup that surely has little experience against a knuckleball pitcher, let alone one with the proficiency that Dickey has developed.
“If I’m throwing 65 pitches and can execute 60 good knuckleballs,” he said, “then we’re probably going to be in a good position.”
Then Torre will turn things over to a cadre of 10 relievers.
Dickey’s WBC appearance is the latest in a remarkable evolution to the right-hander’s career.
Last season with the Mets, he went 20-6 with a 2.32 ERA, becoming the first knuckleballer to win the Cy Young Award. Dickey led the National League in strikeouts (230) and shutouts (three).