Never trust a knuckler
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Blue Jays righthander R.A. Dickey will tell you the R.A. stands for Robert Allen.

Sunday it stood for "ripped apart."

Here's how Dickey's first inning went:

First batter, Jacoby Ellsbury: double to center field.

Next batter: Shane Victorino, single up the middle. Ellsbury goes to third.

Next, Dustin Pedroia flares a single to right. Ellsbury comes around to score, Victorino moves up 90 feet to second.

Mike Napoli follows with a double to center, plating Victorino and Pedroia.

Before we proceed, any predictions on what happens next?

Here are your choices:

A. Dickey gets Will Middlebrooks to strike out but because Doug Mirabelli is the only human on Earth who can catch a knuckleball, Henry Blanco lets strike three roll to the backstop and Middlebrooks is safe at first.

B. Middlebrooks clobbers the first pitch he sees and sends it into the bleachers. The impact of Middlebrooks' swing knocks most of Dickey's clothes off his body similar to what happened when Charlie Brown used to pitch.

C. God has mercy on Dickey's soul and finally lets him record an out.

Time's up. Put down your No. 2 pencils.

If you went with choice B, well, you're mostly correct. Middlebrooks launched Dickey's offering into the seats to put Boston ahead 5-0. Fortunately for those in attendance, Dickey's wardrobe remained in tact (although the game was delayed twice by streakers later in the afternoon).

Whatever your preference in clothing (or lack thereof if you're one of the streakers), Sunday wasn't one of Dickey's better performances. The 2012 NL Cy Young winner gave up eight runs (seven of them earned) including two home runs in 4 2/3 innings of work.

Dickey's first start of the season wasn't especially impressive either and now after two games, his ERA rests at an alarming 8.44. That's nearly six runs higher than the ERA he posted last season with the Mets (2.73).

Though it's not unheard of for Cy Young winners to struggle in their first couple of outings (Tim Lincecum and CC Sabathia both carried ERAs over seven in their first two games after winning the Cy Young), it is unusual for them to struggle THIS badly.

Since 2002, only two pitchers have recorded a higher ERA in their first two starts the year after winning the Cy Young award: Cleveland's Cliff Lee in 2009 (0-2, 9.90) and Anaheim's Bartolo Colon in 2006 (12.86).

Maybe fantasy owners should have seen this coming. Dickey went from unstoppable in the first half of 2012 (12-1, 2.40, .203 BAA) to just "pretty good" after the All-Star break (8-5, 3.09, .250).

What's probably most troubling about Dickey's shaky start is that his first two games have come against teams that were supposed to be cellar dwellers in 2013. Sure, the Red Sox and Indians improved over the winter but remember, these teams combined for a winning percentage of .426 last season.

These were supposed to be gimmes for Dickey. Now the road gets much tougher for fantasy baseball's tenth-ranked starting pitcher heading into the season.

If there aren't any rain-outs and manager John Gibbons doesn't change the rotation, four of Dickey's next eight opponents will be teams that made the postseason a year ago. Six of the eight finished with winning records, including the Braves and the World Series Champion San Francisco Giants.

If Dickey was a conventional pitcher, my advice would probably be to hang in there and wait for things to turn around. But of course, Dickey is anything but conventional.

Predicting the success of a knuckleball is like picking a perfect bracket in the NCAA Tournament: it's nearly impossible.

Growing up in New England and being at Fenway Park in person for at least 20 of Tim Wakefield's starts, I can tell you firsthand that you never know what you're going to get with the knuckleball. Wind, precipitation, the amount of moisture in the air, all of it can affect the rotation of the knuckleball, the most fragile but often the most effective pitch in the major leagues.

Dickey is one of only a handful of knuckleballers in history, so there aren't a whole lot of guys to compare him to.

If there's one thing we learned from Wakefield, the most recent knuckleballer before Dickey, it's that when he was having success, it never lasted for too long.

During the 2009 season when Wakefield made the All-Star team, he finished the first half with 11 wins and a 4.31 ERA. He was especially dependable during a seven-game stretch that began in June and carried over into July. Over that span, he went 5-0 with a 3.97 ERA.

But after the break, Wake went 0-2 with a 6.00 ERA and spent most of the second half sidelined with injuries to his back and calf.

That's how fleeting success can be for a knuckleball pitcher.

Perhaps the most important element for Dickey is finding chemistry with his battery mates. Clearly he didn't have it with J.P. Arencibia, who allowed three passed balls in the season opener. He was replaced by Henry Blanco on Sunday, who caught a few of Dickey's starts when they were teammates in New York back in 2010. Blanco only had one passed ball but obviously the end product, a 13-0 loss to the Red Sox, was less than desirable.

Until Dickey finds chemistry with his catchers, he won't be a reliable pitching option for fantasy owners.

Speaking of fantasy options, is Charlie Brown available on the waiver wire?




Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Jesse Pantuosco at jpantuosco@sportsnetwork.com.

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