Slow down: Dickey taking knuckleball down a notch

Righty swapping velocity for command when it comes to signature pitch

Slow down: Dickey taking knuckleball down a notch

NEW YORK -- R.A. Dickey believes he has a solution for the command issues that have plagued him the past two seasons.

Dickey admits there were times he became too preoccupied with the velocity of his knuckleball. When he tried to increase the speed, it led to his mechanics getting out of whack, which affected location.

That's one of the main reasons why Dickey spent a lot of time this spring getting comfortable with a slightly slower knuckleball that will remain in the zone longer.

"I think it's just so much more of a comfort thing, what speed am I comfortable at," said Dickey. "I know when I step on the gas, when I do that, I get a little bit outside of my mechanics and I can generate a little bit more velocity.

"I know what that feels like. Really, proactively, practicing staying in that comfort zone is what's going to help me most of all."

Dickey walked 74 batters last season, which was the third most in the American League. The year before, he walked 71. The high number has been a concern.

When Dickey arrived in Toronto, one of the most intriguing things about him was how different he was from traditional knuckleballers. Dickey threw his signature pitch anywhere from the mid-70s to low 80s, and from 2010-12, he didn't walk more than 54 batters in a season.

That compared favorably to other knuckleballers who often threw high 60s and low 70s, with a high number of free passes. Dickey's goal for this year is to limit the number of walks, and if a mid-70s knuckleball is the best way to accomplish that, it's a change he's willing to make.

"I think for me, it means that speed isn't necessarily as important as being able to throw it in the strike zone," said Dickey, who went 14-13 with a 3.71 ERA last season. "A lot of times, the last couple of years, I would get in trouble trying to make a knuckleball go 78 or 80 mph, when a 75 mph knuckleball is just fine and it's in the strike zone."

When Dickey takes the mound on Wednesday night against the Yankees, he'll also try to reverse a trend of struggles in April the past two seasons. Through his first four starts in 2014, he had a 6.26 ERA. The year before, Dickey had a 5.36 ERA through seven outings.

Those results prompted Dickey to throw fewer innings early in camp to ease into the regular season.

"Trying to peak at the right time," Dickey said. "It's no secret that I started off poorly the last two years -- really, three of the last five, my starts have been tough. I've kind of pinpointed it to overworking myself in the spring. So being able to take it easy and peaking at the right time, I'm hopeful will get me started in the right direction."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.