R.A. Dickey probably deserved better when he pitched for the Seattle Mariners a few years ago, but there were people on the staff then that had trouble trusting a knuckleball.
"Some people are afraid of it because it's such a unique pitch," manager Eric Wedge said. "You have to trust it, but a man who throws a good one can start or relieve. All things being equal, it's probably best suited to start."
Wedge and the Mariners just happen to have a candidate for staff knuckler - Charlie Haeger, a 27-year-old veteran of parts of five big-league seasons, spent with the White Sox, Padres and Dodgers.
How fascinated are his teammates with that knuckler?
"Eventually, everyone asks how I throw it," Haeger said. "If I execute properly, use the same release point, I can make it move. It's my fastball and my changeup. I can thow it 72-73 mph, drop it down and throw one 64 mph. If I think a guy is sitting on 72 mph, I'll throw my real fastball."
What's it like?
"It's low 80s," Haeger said. "I'm not naive. I figured out pretty early in my career that 82-84 mph wasn't going to cut it, so I started throwing the knuckleball in 2004 and have been throwing it ever since."
In his pro carer, Haeger has appeared in 197 games - 156 of those starts. In the majors? Only 34 games, 10 of those starts, and he's gone 2-7 with a 6.40 earned run average. It's all a matter of use, he said.
"It's a pitch that can save your career, but it's tough to master," he said. "I love when catchers drop it, because that means it's moving. But I've struck out hitters with one, had it get by the catcher and watched the guy get to first base. It can be frustrating."
"One day it's great and you think you've got it, the next day it's like you've never thrown one."
Haeger, a non-roster invitee, will get a long look in camp. He's worked with Charlie Hough, talked with Tim Wakefield and Dickey, who had a marvelous season last year with the Mets.
Used properly, a knuckleball specialist can throw almost daily, eat up inning out of the bullpen and be the perfect spot starter. First, of course, you have to trust that pitch - and the man throwing it.