SPORTS

Russell Martin says catching R.A. Dickey's knuckleball is not easy but doable

02/25/2015 01:01 EST | Updated 04/27/2015 05:59 EDT
DUNEDIN, Fla. - Catcher Russell Martin got positive reviews Wednesday for his first attempt at corralling R.A. Dickey's knuckleball.

It was only a bullpen session but represented a step in the right direction for the Blue Jays, who want Russell's bat and stewardship behind the plate available no matter who's pitching.

"I thought he was really good," said Toronto manager John Gibbons, a former catcher himself. "He's got the hands to do it. And the fact he wants to is big."

Martin acknowledged that it was not easy, "but doable."

"I guess I'll just get more comfortable the more I catch," he said. "But so far, so good."

Josh Thole has been Dickey's personal catcher since 2010 with the Mets and Jays. But Thole, while appreciated in the clubhouse, has hit .175 and .248 in the last two seasons (102 games) in Toronto.

Martin, a Toronto native who grew up in Chelsea, Que., signed a US$82-million, five-year deal with the Blue Jays last November.

Toronto has gone through this before. Two seasons ago, J.P. Arencibia declared he was ready to handle Dickey's dancing pitch after spring training but three passed balls on Opening Day told a different story.

Martin could be heard ooohing and aaahing at Dickey's knuckleball as cameras clicked behind him Wednesday. Midway through the session, Martin told the 40-year-old right-hander to stop announcing what he was about to throw.

"Don't even tell me," he said. "I just want to see how I react."

Martin did not hang on to every ball. Still he fared pretty well for his first attempt.

"I was able to do it without dropping too many," Martin said afterwards while acknowledging it was only Day 1.

Dickey praised Martin for his athleticism as well as his curiosity about the pitch, saying he believes the 32-year-old Canadian will be up to the task. But he also said he has a "very deep relationship" with Thole.

"He's caught over 75 or 80 per cent of my starts since 2010 and I have never seen a guy as good as him," said Dickey. "It's hard to contemplate him not catching me. But at the same time that doesn't mean that he's the only guy in the world that can catch me. He knows that.

"I wouldn't be able to play very long if there was only one guy on earth that can catch me. So he (Thole) gets it. He's a pro."

Thole showed that Wednesday, offering suggestions as he chatted with Martin and bullpen catcher Alex Andreopoulos immediately after the session. Thole also lent Martin his glove, which originally came from Dickey.

Martin joked he may have to throw a new glove into a microwave, or put a softball inside and sleep on it, to get that soft, worked-in feel.

Thole wasn't always adept at handling the knuckleball. He recalls dropping the first three Dickey deliveries he faced in the Mets bullpen in 2010, with the manager, general manager and owner looking on.

It may not be a baseball bromance but Dickey and Martin have made a point of getting to know each other at camp. They chatted while playing catch on a back field Tuesday, discussing the finer points of the knuckleball.

Martin, whose locker stall is next to Dickey's, clearly relishes the task at hand.

"When I'm in the lineup, I feel like I can help the team win," he said. "I don't want just because it's Dickey pitching today that I'm not playing."

"Also I just like challenges," he added.

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