Commentary

Manuel, Mets putting faith in Dickey

Veteran knuckleballer may be finally entrenching himself in a major league rotation

Updated: May 30, 2010, 9:56 PM ET
By Adam Rubin | ESPNNewYork.com

MILWAUKEE -- R.A. Dickey had a Pacific Coast League-best 13 wins and was named the Triple-A league's pitcher of the year in 2007. Yet the Milwaukee Brewers did not give him a September call-up that season, believing his knuckleball was a gimmick rather than a trustworthy offering.

Three years later, Dickey finally may be entrenching himself in a major league rotation.

Dickey surrendered two homers to Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks, but departed after seven innings with the Mets holding a two-run lead Sunday afternoon. And behind a 4-for-5, two-RBI performance from right fielder Jeff Francoeur, center fielder Angel Pagan's two-run homer and second baseman Luis Castillo's tiebreaking two-run single in the sixth, the Mets beat the Brewers 10-4 to salvage the series finale.

"He could be in there for a while," manager Jerry Manuel said about Dickey's standing in the rotation.

Manuel He could be in there for a while.

-- Mets manager Jerry Manuel,
on R.A. Dickey's rotation spot

Of course, Manuel has pledged a long-lasting rotation stay for Hisanori Takahashi as well. And with Jonathon Niese set to rejoin the rotation Saturday when the Mets return to Citi Field against the Florida Marlins, Manuel's pronouncement about Dickey implies John Maine may not be regaining his rotation spot when he eventually returns from the disabled list.

Dickey, making his third start for the Mets, could not harness his knuckleball early, so he relied more heavily on fastballs than he had at any point this season.

"Fortunately, I still have a good enough fastball to get some big outs with," the 35-year-old Dickey said.

With the score tied at two in the sixth, and with Francoeur at second and Henry Blanco at first with one out, Manuel left Dickey in to bunt. Dickey sacrificed the runners ahead. (He had an RBI single and two sacrifice bunts in the game.) Jose Reyes then was intentionally walked to load the bases.

The Mets twice earlier squandered bases-loaded opportunities. They mustered only a David Wright sacrifice fly in the first inning despite putting their first three batters on base. Two innings later, they had the bases loaded and one out, and Pagan lined into a double play for a fruitless frame.

This time, Castillo -- who had been 1-for-19 entering the sixth -- delivered a two-out single up the middle with the runners in motion, plating two runs and handing the Mets a 6-4 lead. Pagan had a two-run homer in the seventh to expand the lead to four and Dickey deferred to the bullpen.

Castillo pointed to the dugout upon reaching first base after his contribution.

"That's a big hit for us," Castillo said. "That's a big game for us, for the team. We lost two on the road. … I know I've been in a slump."

Left-hander Pedro Feliciano walked the lone batter he faced, Prince Fielder, in the bottom of the seventh. But Elmer Dessens, who had tossed two scoreless innings Saturday after dismal performances by Fernando Nieve and Oliver Perez, got Casey McGehee to ground into a double play. Dessens then retired Corey Hart on a flyout.

Manuel even suggested Dessens may emerge as the most reliable eighth-inning option, given recent struggles by Ryota Igarashi and Nieve.

"I tried to make my pitch, a sinker away, to try to get the ground ball for the double play," Dessens said. "I had confidence in my sinker."

The Mets, who improved to 7-16 on the road, scored four ninth-inning runs to tie season highs with 10 runs and 16 hits. Francoeur, who matched a career high with four hits, delivered a two-run double in the ninth.

As for Dickey, he matched his longest outing since Aug. 5, 2008, when he went seven innings with Seattle against Minnesota.

After a slow start Sunday, he eventually got his knuckleball on track.

"Before, if I had a poor knuckleball, I really would desert it," Dickey said. "With who I am now as a pitcher, I don't desert it."

He also acknowledged at least thinking about the September snub by the Brewers three years ago, even if he didn't take it to the mound with him.

"Maybe in my darkest moments in the last few days I might have gone there mentally, but that really wasn't any kind of incentive to do well today," said Dickey, an English major in college, who was in the dugout reading Yann Martel's "Life of Pi" two hours before the first pitch. "I didn't try to do better today than I have any other day in my life. I pitched as hard as I could today, just like I did last week against the Phillies and the week before that against Washington. You do know in this game the longer you play -- and I've been playing for a while now -- that it's not a fair game. It's just not. It's a business, and that's part of the business. And I'm grown up and can take it.

"I think with the pitch that I throw, I probably have to prove myself more than most, because people want to see that it's a trustworthy pitch."

Adam Rubin covers the Mets for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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Adam Rubin has covered the Mets since 2003. He's a graduate of Mepham High School on Long Island and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He joined ESPNNewYork after spending 10 years at the New York Daily News.
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