TORONTO -- For the third time in three years, R.A. Dickey will arrive at Spring Training with the goal of helping a new face learn how to catch his trademark knuckleball.
J.P. Arencibia and Erik Kratz previously auditioned for the role, but in the end it was Josh Thole who ended up with the bulk of the workload. The focus is about to shift yet again, but this time it's with a catcher who has a proven track record of success.
Russell Martin, who signed a five-year contract worth $82 million earlier this offseason, has been very open about his desire to catch Dickey. With Spring Training just over a month away, Dickey is looking forward to getting started.
"Nothing is going to replace time spent together," Dickey told reporters on Day 1 of Toronto's annual Winter Tour. "I think from the get go, we're going to spend a lot of time on the side, bullpens, playing catch, so that he can get a feel for what the pitch does and see if feels like it's something that he can do everyday that I pitch.
"I've thrown 75 or 80 percent of my starts since 2010 to Josh Thole, and I love him like a brother. To have a guy who can step in there and do it as well, it's a nice commodity."
There was understandable doubt during each of the past two seasons about whether Arencibia and Kratz could handle the unpredictable pitch. Arencibia appeared to be overmatched, while Kratz did a relatively solid job during camp, but in both cases, the full-time job went to Thole.
That could change this season, even though Thole is still under contract. Martin prides himself on playing almost everyday, and the only way that will continue is if he's able to handle Dickey. The progress might be slow at first, but with six weeks to work on it during camp, it's possible a strong defender like Martin will be up to the task.
"It just requires intentional communication and consistent communication," Dickey said. "I'm with Josh now, he doesn't even need to put down a sign. I can go a whole game without him flashing a whole sign -- that's remarkable.
"To get to that place with another person is going to be a real challenge, but it's not that it can't be done, Russell just needs to get repetitions. He's an incredible athlete. Guys who are great athletes, have great hand-eye coordination, which he possesses, usually ... have a better chance at doing it well."
For those who believe that all catchers at the big league level have great hand-eye coordination, think again.
"You'd be surprised," Dickey said. "A lot of guys aren't great receivers. ... They're there for offensive reasons or because they have a good arm, not necessarily great at receiving, which is a trait that I need my catcher to have more than anything. A guy who has great hands.
"A lot of guys, especially offensive catchers, feel like it takes them out of their offensive game when they have to commit so much mental energy into catching that pitch. So some guys step out because of that. But guys who are up for the challenge usually can do it."