01/16/2015 07:06 EST | Updated 03/18/2015 05:59 EDT

Dickey lets his nails 'go' in off-season, starts treating them in late January

TORONTO - With spring training just over a month away, many big-league baseball players are starting to get back into their workout routines in preparation for the 2015 season.

For Blue Jays knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, the pre-season plan is a little different. The veteran right-hander has to give his nails extra attention since they're critical for his unique pitch.

"I just kind of let them go in the winter," Dickey said Friday. "And then when it comes time for like around late January, I start treating them with some product and making sure that they're filed right, and the nail hardener is on there, things like that."

Dickey was joined by teammates Jose Bautista, Aaron Loup, Todd Redmond and Dalton Pompey for a media availability at Rogers Centre to kick off the Blue Jays' Winter Tour. The tour will include stops in Calgary, Banff and Vancouver next week.

A chipped or broken nail can significantly hamper Dickey's ability to throw the unique pitch, which can float, dive and flutter en route to the plate. The over-the-counter hardener is used so the nails can withstand the rigours of a full season.

Dickey tries to keep his nails at a consistent length and also has to be mindful of tasks that other players wouldn't be concerned about — like making sure a nail doesn't crack while he's doing up a zipper, for example.

He doesn't go into nail salons unless there's an emergency.

"I do my own stuff," Dickey said in a recent interview at a different promotional event. "I'm probably the only major leaguer out there that could go on the disabled list for a broken nail.

"I don't trust many people with my nails. I do it all on my own."

To throw the pitch, Dickey puts his index and middle fingers just behind the horseshoe-like seam on the ball. He digs his nails in on top and supports the bottom of the ball with his thumb on one side and fourth finger on the other.

The thumb must stay off the seam to prevent the ball from spinning. Dickey then winds up and bends his wrist at an almost 90-degree angle before essentially pushing the ball out.

With no spin, the ball floats toward the plate, often handcuffing batters with its slower speed and directional changes.

Knuckleballers are quite rare as it can take a long time for a pitcher to master it. Dickey, 40, started out as a conventional pitcher but found the most success as a knuckler later in his career.

So is it a fun pitch to throw?

"It can be. It can also be maddening," he said. "When it's going good, there's not anything better in the world. But when it's going bad, it can be really ugly."

Dickey won the National League Cy Young Award with the New York Mets in 2012 and joined the Blue Jays the following year. He'll be counted on to help anchor Toronto's starting rotation again in 2015.

Dickey reached the 200-inning plateau for the fourth straight season last year, finishing with a 14-13 mark and 3.71 earned-run average.

Spring training begins next month and the Blue Jays will kick off the regular season April 6 in New York.


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