MINNEAPOLIS - A second-straight Thursday start unfolded in close to the same fashion for struggling knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. Four scoreless innings, a 0-0 tie, only to have things come undone in the fifth.
Last week in a loss to Houston, it was a Robbie Grossman fifth inning home run that broke the goose egg. Thursday afternoon, ultimately a 7-0 loss to Minnesota, it was a one-out single by Brian Dozier which led to six-straight Twins reaching base (five hits, one walk), five of whom scored to prematurely end Dickey's day.
He teetered throughout, pitching out of jams in the first and fourth, before the dam burst.
"I would get count and then really try to finish guys and they would do a good job of laying off really good pitches," said Dickey. "I thought I got squeezed there a couple of pitches but outside of that it was one of those days where you're just not putting the whole game together."
Most troubling is the walk total. Dickey issued five more free passes, bringing his season total to 15 in 23 innings, second-most in all of baseball behind Philadelphia's A.J. Burnett.
"It's certainly moving better at this point, believe it or not, than it was last year," said Dickey. "I feel like over the course of the season, like I've got 190 innings left, so I truly believe all the peripheral numbers are going to even out."
"I mean it's pretty amazing you keep that thing in the zone, period," said manager John Gibbons. "He battles that. That's a lot for him and he'll cut down on those, I've got no doubt about that but you think about it, to be able to throw that thing in the strike zone is pretty tough as it is. But there's no question that's been hurting him."
Dickey admitted to being miffed with home plate umpire Chris Guccione's strike zone. At times he was the beneficiary, most notably on a full count, called third strike on Minnesota's Chris Colabello in the first, which stranded a runner at third base.
He thought he had Jason Kubel struck out twice in the fifth, got neither call, and Kubel singled home Minnesota's second run.
"I'm letting some external something impact the inning," said Dickey. "Whether it's a ball that I thought should have been a strike or a ball that gets through a hole but we're fortunate the other guys are going well. This won't remain this way. It's just tough to weather."
Gibbons tried to let Dickey work out of the fifth but after the Kubel single, Josmil Pinto cracked a double off the wall in left-centre that scored two.
"Dickey's our guy, it's early," said Gibbons. "He's here to get out of those innings and win games."
"I really respect that," said Dickey. "I'm appreciative of the opportunity to let me get through the fifth there. I take great pride in trying to go at least six innings in every start and so far this year in two of my four I haven't been able to do that and he's given me every opportunity. As the season progresses those decisions, I'll make those pay off for him."
Dickey threw a higher number of fastballs than usual. According to BrooksBaseball.net, 25 of his 112 pitches were fastballs, which he didn't attribute the cool conditions - the temperature was zero Celsius at first pitch.
"It wasn't ideal but it wasn't something where I was coming in trying to soak my fingers in warm water to try to keep them warm," said Dickey. "I just didn't execute when I needed to make a big pitch and they put good swings on it."
"I think it was just trying to balance the velocity of the knuckleball with the fastball so you're trying to throw a few more mid-count fastballs just to try to get them off of (the knuckleball,)" said catcher Josh Thole.
Dickey's ERA ballooned from 5.30 to 6.26 in the loss. He dropped to 1-3 on the season, a decision in each start, each decision accurately reflecting the quality of his outing.
The Jays' starting staff, combined, has a 4.06 ERA through 15 games. Subtract Dickey's 16 earned runs allowed and his 23 innings pitched, the ERA drops to 3.20.
"I'm traditionally a slow starter and hopefully I can get back on track next time," said Dickey.