CC Sabathia loves to hit and gets only a couple of chances to do so every season, and the baseball gods have been unfair to him today. Sabathia will be on "Sunday Night Baseball" (8 p.m. ET, ESPN), but does the left-hander get to swing against some mediocre right-hander with a meaty fastball?
He gets to hit against R.A. Dickey, who has been throwing one of the most dominant pitches in baseball history during the past couple of months: a knuckleball that is unlike any knuckler thrown in the past. And Sabathia has a clear strategy for his at-bats. "If it's a knuckleball, I'm not swinging," he said, smiling. "Because I don't want to get hurt, and I don't want to look bad."
If Sabathia does eventually take a hack and looks a little awkward, well, he can take solace in the fact that the best and most experienced hitters have looked that bad against Dickey this year.
The Mets' right-hander explained on Saturday that he has focused on maintaining the elevation of his knuckler this year, which he has a better chance to do than knuckleballers who have preceded him, from Tim Wakefield to Phil Niekro to Charlie Hough to Steve Sparks, because he throws it harder -- about 80 mph or a little faster. The ball stays higher and gives Dickey a better chance at throwing strikes -- and with the dramatic late movement that comes with knuckleballs.
Catcher Josh Thole is convinced that Dickey's unusual knuckleball velocity comes from his legs in the way he drives off the mound. Knuckleballers such as Wakefield have tended to just step toward home plate, but tonight the New York Yankees will see Dickey push off the pitching rubber at them, and when he maintains the proper release point, the ball darts through the strike zone unpredictably.
Dickey's command has gotten so good, Thole said, that he and Dickey have actually focused on location. Typically, catchers working with a knuckleballer set up over the middle of the plate, ready to react like hockey goalies. But Thole and Dickey will talk before the game about whether they want to work inside or outside to a particular hitter, and Thole will slide toward a corner of the plate to set his target. "And I won't change [during the at-bat]," Thole said.
Eric Chavez has had some success against Dickey in the past, but he says that the numbers he generated were against Dickey's old knuckler, not the dominant pitch he's throwing this year. "There really is no approach," Chavez said. "You just swing and you hope you hit it."
The most interesting approach against Dickey this season, Thole believes, was described by Adam LaRoche, who told the catcher he treats his at-bats against Dickey like he's playing slow-pitch softball -- stepping into the swing, Happy Gilmore style.
If he hits it, well, it's probably going to be a home run. But he probably won't hit it. The late movement is so extraordinary that hitters don't usually make contact against Dickey these days.
Earlier this week, I sent an email to some evaluators asking them to note the most dominant pitches of all time -- like Mariano Rivera's cut fastball or Bruce Sutter's splitter, for example. Because right now, Dickey's pitch is a lot like those in their time: almost unhittable. In posing the question, I asked the evaluators to stretch their memories, and some had fun with this purely subjective (but interesting) question. The results:
Multiple votes division
• Rivera's cutter (seven votes)
From one evaluator: "Mariano's cutter is the single most devastating pitch in MLB history. Probably the only pitch that was equally predictable and devastating."
• Randy Johnson's slider (four votes)
• Sandy Koufax's curveball (three votes)
• Nolan Ryan's fastball (three votes)
• Nolan Ryan's curveball (three votes)
• Trevor Hoffman's changeup (three votes)
• Pedro Martinez's changeup (three votes)
• Johan Santana's changeup (three votes)
• Fernando Valenzuela's screwball (two votes)
• Dwight Gooden's curveball (two votes)
• Sutter's splitter (two votes)
• Gaylord Perry's petroleum product ball (two votes)
• Dave Giusti's palm ball (two votes)
• Mike Scott's cut fastball/splitter (two votes.) "Literally cut," wrote one evaluator.
• Steve Carlton's slider
• J.R. Richard's fastball
• J.R. Richard's slider
• Eric Gagne's disappearing ball
• John Smoltz's slider
• Cole Hamels' changeup
• Orel Hershiser's sinker
• Brandon Webb's sinker
• Bert Blyleven's curveball
• Pedro Martinez's whole repertoire -- changeup, fastball, curve
• Tom Seaver's slider
• Greg Maddux's front-door two-seam fastball
• Greg Maddux's changeup
• Felix Hernandez's curveball
• Rob Dibble's fastball
• Jim Palmer's riding fastball
• Phil Niekro's knuckler
• Tug McGraw's forkball
• Burleigh Grimes' spitball
• Elroy Face's forkball
• Whitey Ford's mud ball
• Gregg Olson's curveball
For the readers: Do you have more nominations?
From ESPN Stats and Information, more on Dickey:
Dickey's current streak of innings without an earned run at 42 2/3 is the second longest in Mets history. The franchise record for consecutive innings without allowing an earned run is 49 by Dwight Gooden in 1985 (Aug. 31 to Oct. 2).
Since Orel Hershiser had his record scoreless innings streak, Dickey is close to having the longest streak of innings without an earned run. (Note: Hershiser's streak didn't have any runs, while the below list includes unearned runs.)
Most consecutive innings without an earned run (since 1988)
Zack Greinke: 43 innings, 2008 to 2009
Cory Lidle: 43 innings, 2002
R.A. Dickey: 42 2/3 innings, 2012
Brandon Webb: 42 innings, 2007
Roy Halladay: 41 innings, 2003
Gregg Olson: 41 innings, 1989 to '90
Dickey is the first pitcher in modern baseball history (since 1900) with back-to-back one-hitters of 10-plus strikeouts and the first NL pitcher with consecutive one-hitters since Jim Tobin in 1944.
Dickey has now won his past six starts, with 63 strikeouts and only two runs allowed during that span. No other major league pitcher since 1900 has gone 6-0 with at least 60 strikeouts and two or fewer runs allowed during a span of six consecutive starts.
The knuckleball can be tough on umpires, writes Benjamin Hoffman.
The Yankees and Mets have split the first two games of this series, with Chavez mashing a tiebreaking homer on Saturday.
Rizzo made a substantive change in his setup at the plate since last season by lowering his hands, Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum explained last week. "There isn't a great hitter in the history of baseball who keeps his hands high," said Sveum.
• The Philadelphia Phillies got contributions from two guys at both ends of the home run spectrum on Saturday. First, Juan Pierre hit his 17th career homer -- and the first three-run homer in his career.
From ESPN Stats and Info: Thome's 13th career walk-off bomb broke a tie with a few Hall of Famers for most all time.
Most career walk-off homers:
Mickey Mantle: 12
Jimmie Foxx: 12
Babe Ruth: 12
Stan Musial: 12
Moves, deals and decisions
2. The Rays are going to use a series of relievers today.
3. A decision on Brad Penny's future will come in the next few days.
4. The O'Malley group hopes to have a deal in place by the All-Star break, which may or may not leave enough time for the San Diego Padres to make some kind of offer to Carlos Quentin for him to consider.
Dings and dents
5. The Royals' pitchers have become part of an epidemic, writes Sam Mellinger.
NL East notes
From ESPN Stats and Info: The Marlins are reeling in June, with the league's worst record at 4-16. This follows up a May in which they led the majors with a 21-8 record (see chart). This follows a pattern from 2011, when the Marlins went 5-23 in June. They followed that up with a 17-10 record in July.
The Marlins haven't scored more than five runs since May 25, a stretch of 25 games. That's the fourth most since 1973 (the '79 Mets went 40 games).
AL West notes
NL Central notes
From ESPN Stats and Info: How Wainwright shut down the Royals:
A. Wainwright pitched backwards, throwing 48 percent first-pitch fastballs, tied for his lowest percentage this season. He threw 26 percent first-pitch curveballs, his highest percentage this season.
B. Wainwright threw just 52 percent first-pitch strikes, but he battled back. He retired all five hitters he took to a 2-0 count, including two via strikeout. He had just six strikeouts after going 2-0 in his first 14 starts this season.
C. He went to a season-high seven three-ball counts, but just one ended with a walk.
• The Brewers' pitching squandered a lead.
AL Central notes
• Dayan Viciedo spurred a White Sox rally.
AL East notes
From the Elias Sports Bureau: Before Morales, the last pitcher to strike out eight-plus in his first two starts for the Red Sox was Pedro Martinez, who did it in four straight starts from April 1-17, 1998.
• The Twins' brain trust lost its way, writes Patrick Reusse.
• The Twins are impressed by their No. 1 pick so far.
• Danny Hultzen had a tough Triple-A debut.
• Daron Sutton was not in the Arizona broadcast booth Friday.
And today will be better than yesterday.