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Royals gearing for Dickey's tough knuckleball

Royals gearing for Dickey's tough knuckleball

KANSAS CITY -- For the Royals on Saturday night comes their first chance to test R.A. Dickey's famous knuckleball since he became last year's National League Cy Young Award winner with the Mets.

Now with the Blue Jays, Dickey will be making his first start against the Royals since 2004, when he was with the Rangers. And that was before he made the transition to a full-time knuckleballer in 2006.

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That noted assessor of pitchers, Royals designated hitter Billy Butler, hadn't yet made a full pregame diagnosis of Dickey.

"Obviously, the rule of thumb with a knuckleball -- I've faced Tim Wakefield the last few years -- is 'If it's high, let it fly; if it's low, let it go,'" Butler said. "It's a little bit different -- Dickey throws it harder. If the ball's moving everywhere and he's on, it's going to be tough."

How hard is Dickey's knuckler?

"Hard, harder than most knuckleballs. Low- to mid-80s," Royals manager Ned Yost guessed, then delved into a scouting report and added: "His fastball is 82, his knuckleball is 73 to 78. Darts away, near-slider break against right-handers, sinks away to lefties. It's got late life."

Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar, when he was with Milwaukee, faced Dickey and went 2-for-6 with a triple. He's also faced the slower flutterball of Wakefield.

"For me, it doesn't matter," Escobar said. "I go to home plate, swing at the ball and play the game. It's just different because the ball is moving a lot."

Right fielder Jeff Francoeur never has faced Dickey, but he's certainly seen him a lot when they were Mets teammates.

"It'll be interesting, because I've only faced really Wakefield. It's such a different knuckleball. It's coming harder and seems to be moving more sometimes," Francoeur said.

Is there any way to prepare for the knuckler?

"I don't think so," Francoeur said. "I was actually thinking about that myself, talking to a couple of the guys. I think it's more one of those things where you take a few pitches, see what maybe it's doing. One is, you can't try to get big -- if you get big, you're going to end up just jamming yourself. It's just, 'If you see it high, let it fly.' " Francoeur was asked if Dickey can be expected to mix in his other pitches with the knuckler.

"Very rarely. If it's 2-0, 3-1 he might, but I think his last start a couple of guys hit those fastballs off him, so he might be a little less inclined to throw it this time," Francoeur said.

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

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