SPORTS

Blue Jays knuckleballer R.A. Dickey looks forward to life under the dome

04/01/2013 05:25 EDT | Updated 06/01/2013 05:12 EDT
TORONTO - While some baseball traditionalists decry the roof and artificial turf at Rogers Centre, R.A. Dickey sees a controlled environment and smiles.

Life under the dome has been good for the knuckleballer.

"The climate's not an issue. You don't have to worry about wind gusts. You don't have to worry about rain and moisture," said the 38-year-old right-hander, who opens for the Toronto Blue Jays against Justin Masterson and the Cleveland Indians on Tuesday.

"It's usually a constant temperature. The grass usually is the same — especially here," he added with a grin.

That's the simple answer. Like most things, Dickey has thought through the issue.

"In domes, a lot of times it depends on how much humidity gets inside," he adds, getting into the topic.

If the roof is left open on a hot day and then closed just before game time, the humidity is trapped inside without much circulation, he explained.

"It's hard to throw a knuckleball in that environment," he said.

The good news is that rarely happens in domes. And it is unlikely to happen here, where the Blue Jays have their finger on the roof remote, so to speak.

"I usually have fairly good numbers inside domes — traditionally," Dickey said. "Here in particular, going off (Sunday's) knuckleball on the game mound and the conditions that were here (Sunday), I'm encouraged. That's all I'm saying. I'm not making any predictions but it felt good coming out of my hand and that's a good sign."

While other pitchers strive to make the ball rotate more, knuckleballers try to subtract rotation.

Dickey's cause is aided by the fact that he can get the pitch in the strike zone on a regular basis and that he throws it harder than knuckleballers in the past. Last year, he also managed to get it to change levels.

Beyond that, he's not looking for any more ribbons to his knuckleball bow. His focus is honing what he already possesses.

"I feel like I have a good arsenal of weapons to be able to attack the big-league hitter," he said. "It's a matter of doing that consistently over the course of 200-plus innings ... I've got my hands full with the knuckleball, as is. I'm just trying to refine that."

Still he admits the process of learning — and hopefully discovery — "is one of the things that makes it fun to come to the park every day."

Dickey leaves little to chance. Having remade his career as a knuckleballer, he has developed a routine that he sticks to. Everything is aimed at consistency — being able to reproduce a pitch whose success is in its inconsistency.

That takes hard work, which explains his throwing session Sunday under the dome,

"It's been a long road to get where he's at right now," said Toronto manager John Gibbons. "He's going to take nothing for granted. He's earned everything he's gotten. So he's not going to slack off. He's got his routine. He's probably more thorough than anybody you'll ever see.

"A perfect guy to pitch (Tuesday) night. He's very focused. I don't think you can distract him. I look forward to him having a big, big year for us."

Thanks to the World Baseball Classic, Dickey got to pitch this spring before big crowds under the dome against Mexico at Chase Stadium in Phoenix and against the Dominican Republic at Marlins Park in Miami.

"So it gave me two real tangible experiences to be able to lean on when I go out there (Tuesday) night and it was a nice prelude, if you will," said Dickey.

Dickey, last year's NL Cy Young Award-winner, also credits the WBC for allowing him time with J.P. Arencibia.

"If the WBC would not have happened, J.P. would not be catching me," he said.

Essentially, it was like a tryout for those making the decision on who would catch Dickey during the regular season, Dickey added.

Toronto had options with Henry Blanco, Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas all having caught Dickey before.

"He did very well," Dickey said of Arencibia. "I'm very confident in his ability to receive it now.

"That being said, the dome is a nice place to throw a knuckleball. This particular dome, there's going to be an adjustment period probably for him (Tuesday) night with everything around there. But that's OK, he's equipped. I trust him completely. I'm very confident in his ability.

"But it's a real challenge. I think he's up for it. But it (the WBC) did a lot for our relationship in the sense that it put it in a microwave and we really had to see if he could do it or not in a game situation. And he did well, he responded very beautifully to that."

Blanco will back Arencibia up this season, with Thole and Nickeas in the minors.

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