by Jonathan Leshanski
May 5, 2004
I looked at the standings today and initially
I thought that things were pretty much as expected. But that is
not really true - I expected teams like the Red Sox, Padres, Angels,
Twins and the Astros to be at the top of their divisions and I predicted
that the Marlins and Yankees would be contenders and probably take
the Wild Card births. I have to admit I never pictured the Texas
Rangers as a first place team after more than perhaps the first
10 games of the season.
Now I know that this is probably just an aberration, after all we
have never seen any pitching thrive in Arlington its
just one of those parks that favors hitters and allows batters to
pad their stats. However the Rangers staff at this point in the
season has been tremendous - ranking first in the AL in Wins and
third in the AL in ERA.
The Rangers starting rotation hardly reads like a whos
who of pitching; their highest paid starter, Chan Ho Park, also
has their highest ERA. What has emerged in Texas is an unlikely
ace in 29 year old right-hander R.A. Dickey, who was considered
such a nothing pitcher that more than half of this seasons
fantasy guides did not even have him listed.
Dickey, who was characterized as a middling middle reliever
that relies on sheer guts, has had the last laugh with a 4-1, 3.48
start. It is certainly a step up from last seasons 9-8 record
and ERA of 5.09 Dickey is already more than a third of the
way towards matching his career best win total (11), which came
in 2001 with Oklahoma of the Pacific Coast League.
The Rangers had great hopes for Dickey, who was their first round
pick (18th overall) in the 1996 draft. However prior to his signing
a medical anomaly was found - it was discovered by a Rangers
team doctor that Dickey was missing the ulnar collateral ligament
on his right arm. According to experts that should have prevented
him from doing simple things like carrying groceries or even turning
a doorknob or driving.
Maybe not knowing this was a real blessing. Prior to this discovery
Dickey was one of the top pitchers in college and he played with
the 1996 USA Olympic team. After being picked by the Rangers in
the draft the world appeared to be his oyster. Then the team doctors
checked him out and discovered the unique nature of his elbow.
The team pulled back his bonus and his future was suddenly in doubt.
Not only did he not have the ligament but his elbow also showed
signs of injury. Almost out of desperation he still signed with
the Rangers - for about three quarters of a million dollars less.
His minor league career was unimpressive for the most part until
2001 while playing for Oklahoma in the Pacific Coast League where
he posted an 11-7 record with a 3.75 ERA. That earned him a late
season call up as a reliever but it was just a cup of coffee. 2002
found him toiling in the PCL again, not quite good enough for the
majors and perhaps just a little too talented for AAA.
Last year he finally got his break. He came back to the big team
and pitched in 38 games, starting 13 of them. He finished with a
9-8 record and a 5.09 ERA - the best numbers for any American League
rookie pitcher that started more than 10 games in 2003. Those numbers
look much more ugly than they really were and they caused him to
be overlooked by a lot of experts coming into 2004.
On Sunday night Dickey started his 5th game of the season, which
was only his 18th major league start. The game was televised on
ESPN with a national television audience and he showed both experts
and fans alike just what he has to offer. He earned the 13th win
of his career and fourth of the season by limiting the Boston Red
Sox to only 4 hits and one run over 8.2 innings.
He worked this magic with a nice mixture of pitches including a
good fastball, change up and curve, and a special pitch that he
credits as being the key to his success - the Thing.
In laymans terms the Thing is a combination of
a knuckleball and a curve but it really appears to be more of a
combination of everything that he throws rolled into one pitch.
Whatever that thing is, it is certainly difficult to
hit - as Dickey used it cool off one of the hottest hitters in baseball
in David Ortiz, snapping his 12 game hitting streak and finish the
sweep of the Sox. Manny Ramirez categorized his stuff as nasty
following the game.
It may very well be that the thing is a unique pitch
delivered by a unique elbow or it might just be that Dickey has
just been lucky. Whatever the case may be, it makes Robert Alan
Dickey a player to watch and to cheer - he might become the ace
that the Rangers have craved since the Ballpark in Arlington opened.