Dickey to work with Niekro on knuckler

Dickey to work with Niekro

A pitcher can never get too much information on how to throw a particular pitch, and the knuckleball that right-hander R.A. Dickey is still trying to master could soon become further developed with the help of a Hall of Famer.

After nearly three months of playing phone and e-mail tag, Dickey and Phil Niekro finally connected on Monday, setting up a future rendezvous in Atlanta, where they will work on a pitch that Dickey has been throwing for slightly more than two years.

But first Dickey wants to find out where he'll be pitching next season.

He is eligible for salary arbitration, and though he wants to return to the Mariners, he doesn't know if the feeling is mutual.

That's why he'll wait until later this month, or into December, before deciding when to meet with Niekro, who lives near Atlanta.

"I want to make sure that whoever my pitching coach is knows what I'm doing," Dickey said.

In the meantime, he'll be thinking of questions that he can ask Niekro, a 318-game winner who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1997.

"I had stretches last season when I was real consistent," Dickey said, "and then I would go through a spell when I wasn't. I think he could teach me how to throw a good knuckleball repeatedly."

Niekro was one of the best to ever throw a pitch that moves in all sorts of directions, baffling hitters over a 24-year Major League career that started with the Milwaukee Braves in 1964 and ended with the Braves in '87, a decade before being enshrined in Cooperstown, N.Y.

When Mariners announcer Dave Niehaus was given the Ford C. Frick Award at the Baseball Hall of Fame this past July, he had a conversation about Dickey with Niekro, who gave Niehaus his business card and asked him to give it to the Mariners pitcher.

Dickey, a traditional fastball-breaking ball pitcher with the Rangers early in his career, began throwing a knuckleball as a last resort, and it ended up getting him back to the Major Leagues.

Dickey pitched so well during the second half of the 2007 season at Oklahoma City that the Mariners selected him in the Rule 5 Draft last December off the Twins' roster. After Dickey had a solid Spring Training, going 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA in seven Cactus League appearances, the Mariners worked out a deal with Minnesota for Minor League catcher Jair Fernandez, which enabled Seattle to send Dickey to Triple-A Tacoma.

Hot Stove

Dickey had two stints in the Minors, but spent the bulk of the season with the Mariners, pitching superbly in relief -- a 2-0 record and 2.00 ERA in 18 appearances -- and not as well in a starting role, going 3-8 with a 6.72 ERA in 14 starts.

"I wish I could have been a hair more consistent," he said, "but I'm pretty new at throwing the [knuckleball]. I tutored initially with Charlie Hough just a few years ago, and he helped me get where I am."

Dickey also received some pointers from Red Sox starter Tim Wakefield during the season.

"I have a pretty good aptitude on the pitch, and working with Phil could be a big help in improving it in the upcoming season," he said. You can never get too much information, especially with this pitch."

The 34-year-old Dickey figures he's at least five years younger than that in knuckleball years.

"I'm still trying to figure the pitch out," he said. "[Niekro] was something like 46 or 47 [48 actually] when he retired. Heck, I hope to have 12 or 13 good years left in me. And I hope they're all with Seattle."

Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.