Bauman: Dickey a point of stability for Mets

Bauman: Dickey a point of stability for Mets

MILWAUKEE -- The one man standing between the Mets and a sweep at the hands of the otherwise humble Brewers on Sunday was a 35-year-old attempting a career resurrection with a knuckleball.

But R.A. Dickey has given himself over to this pitch, right arm, body and soul, and he is becoming not some baseball oddity but a focal point of stability in the Mets' rotation.

After tough-to-take defeats on Friday and Saturday, the Mets emerged triumphant on Sunday, 10-4. For the third straight start, Dickey pitched well enough for the Mets to win. He is pitching his way into this team's plans.

"He battles, he really battles," Mets manager Jerry Manuel said. "I think he deserves another shot, no doubt about it. In all of his starts, he's given us a chance to win. When you get that, you've got to keep going with it."

The impressive thing in this game was not that Dickey dazzled the Brewers with a totally unhittable knuckler. It was that he didn't have the feel for the pitch that he wanted at the outset, but he found it as the afternoon progressed.

There was trouble initially. Rickie Weeks led off for the Brewers with a home run, and the Brewers had five hits in the first two innings. But this is where Dickey has an edge over most knuckleball practitioners. He has a usable high-80s fastball, and he turned to it early.

"He's different because he throws a fastball, sinks it in there pretty good, and he has pretty good command of it," Manuel said. "I think he would be somewhat different than just a knuckleball guy who throws it 77 [mph] or 76."

"I definitely went to my fastball more than I have pretty much since the beginning of the season," Dickey said. "I didn't have a real good feel for my knuckleball early in the game, and I really had to fight through some innings. ... Fortunately, I still have a good enough fastball to get some big outs with."

But Dickey did not stop throwing the knuckler, and he was rewarded for his persistence and his diligence.

"Before, if I had a poor knuckleball, I really would desert it," he said. "With who I am now as a pitcher, I don't desert it, I find a way to win with it, I find a way to pitch with it. That's what happened today. I wasn't throwing a great knuckleball early on, but I still had to throw it, they still had to see that I was willing to throw it. I threw it on a couple of 3-2 counts and a 3-1 count, so they couldn't just sit on a fastball in a fastball count. And that's a big bonus. If I can do that, even when I don't have a great knuckleball, then [I] can battle for six, seven, eight innings.

"There was a time, when I first started throwing the pitch, when if I didn't have [a feel for it], I couldn't get it. Then I started being able to make the adjustment during an outing, which was a big help. This is year five for me throwing it, so I feel like I have a pretty good idea of what I need to do to throw it for strikes. I don't think I walked a guy today, and that was big."

Both Dickey and the knuckler improved into the middle innings. From the third through the sixth, all the Brewers could manage were two singles.

Meanwhile, the Mets were aided by the decision of Brewers manager Ken Macha to bring the eminently hittable Jeff Suppan into a game that was tied at 2 after five innings. Suppan, who has an ERA of 7.22, performed largely as anyone outside the Milwaukee clubhouse would expect, giving up four runs on six hits in just 1 2/3 innings.

But that should not detract from the overall quality of a winning performance by Dickey and a relatively rare road victory for the Mets, even though Weeks once again got to Dickey, this time for a two-run homer in the seventh inning.

"Rickie just was seeing it good," Dickey said. "That happens sometimes."

Dickey has been an intriguing story from the beginning of his career. He was a first-round Draft choice of the Texas Rangers, but he saw the vast majority of his signing bonus disappear when team doctors discovered that he did not have an ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing arm.

Nevertheless, he threw conventional pitches with enough success to reach the big leagues and make 76 appearances over portions of four seasons with the Rangers, but then a back injury robbed him of velocity, and he turned to the knuckleball. It required not an interest in the pitch but a full-time commitment to it, and that's what Dickey has given it.

As a relatively new knuckleballer, he had stints with the Mariners and Twins, both with intermittent stretches of success. Ironically, he put up a terrific season in Triple-A with the Milwaukee organization, but the Brewers never summoned him to the Majors.

This season, after being signed by the Mets organization, he was called up from Triple-A Buffalo on May 19. In three starts with the Mets, Dickey is 2-0 with a 2.84 ERA. With four earned runs allowed over seven innings, Sunday's was statistically his worst outing, but it was still a winning performance.

Dickey also had what qualified as a big day at the plate for a pitcher. He singled in the fourth -- up the middle against a drawn-in infield -- for his first career RBI, and he successfully put down two sacrifice bunts. He looked completely like a pitcher who could help himself, and the Mets.

"With the pitch that I throw, I probably have to prove myself more than most," he said, "because people want to see that it's a trustworthy pitch. Every outing that I go out and show that I can compete with what I have and keep us in ballgames for a long amount of time, the more opportunities I'm going to have.

"I didn't pitch real well. I'm capable of pitching much better than I did today. And that's a good thing."

That may be a very good thing. With each successful performance for a Mets team missing 60 percent of its planned rotation, R.A. Dickey looks less like an implausible solution and more like a successful knuckleball pitcher.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.