Dickey outduels Pineda, homers provide insurance
TORONTO -- The high velocity and consistent command were back for R.A. Dickey on Saturday afternoon as he bounced back in a big way during a start against the Yankees.
Toronto's ace was coming off an outing vs. the Rays in which he tied a career high with six walks and struggled to get his knuckleball above the mid-70s on the radar gun. Neither of those issues returned against New York as Dickey had one of his better outings in a Blue Jays uniform.
Dickey struck out six and tossed 6 2/3 scoreless innings to outduel Michael Pineda, and Melky Cabrera and Jose Bautista added late home runs in the Blue Jays' 4-0 victory over the Yankees at Rogers Centre.
"I'm not sure of all the data, but I certainly feel much more in control when I'm able to get to those higher velocities," Dickey said. "I feel like I know where to start it. That's kind of the thing that has always separated me from being a traditional knuckleballer -- that I have the velocities that are a little bit higher, and they allow me to throw more strikes with it."
Dickey was consistently hitting the upper 70s on his knuckleball and even had some pitches register in the low 80s. That had some people assuming he was using his fastball more than usual, but after the game he said that wasn't the case, as he only used that pitch 10 to 12 times throughout the game.
The upper-70s/low-80s area is where Dickey typically likes to find himself. He was hitting it during Spring Training, but for whatever reason, during his first start of the season, he struggled to generate that type of speed. That seemed to cause his knuckleball to float all over the place as he struggled to throw it within the strike zone.
During this start, though, he walked just one and allowed only five hits. He threw 69 of his 108 pitches for strikes and limited the Yankees to hitting just 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position.
"You have to live and die with the pitch. That's part of what it makes it very hard to do at the big league level, and it makes it very special," he said. "You have to try to have the resolve to hold both. Tonight was much different, much better obviously, but my velocities were a lot better this time through than they were [against the Rays]. I didn't feel great … and I had a rough game, I had a clunker, and it's nice to get over that against a really good ballclub in the [American League] East."
Dickey's only major scare came in the third inning. Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli led off with a double to right, but Dickey proceeded to strike out a pair of batters before Jacoby Ellsbury came through with a single up the middle.
Colby Rasmus fielded the ball, made a strong throw to the plate, and catcher Josh Thole applied the tag as Cervelli came sliding in. Home-plate umpire Dana DeMuth called Cervelli out, then after an inquiry from Yankees manager Joe Girardi, decided to review whether Thole had blocked the plate. DeMuth took a look at the replay and confirmed the call on the field, which ended the inning.
"I don't even understand the rule, to be honest with you," Thole said. "I don't even know. I don't know what I would have argued. I mean, the ball kind of took me up the line, and I just went for the ball. I wasn't even aware that I gave him a lane to slide, I was just going to catch the ball."
Dickey was impressive, but Pineda was arguably just as good. Pineda was making his first big league start since Sept. 21, 2011, but he didn't display any signs of rust, dominating the Toronto lineup for most of the afternoon.
Toronto's only significant rally vs. the right-hander came in the second inning. Adam Lind led off with an opposite-field double and, after a botched bunt by Brett Lawrie, Thole came through with a little blooper to left field for an RBI single.
"I'm very happy about everything, because everything is doing good, and that's what I'm looking for," said Pineda, who allowed just the one run and struck out five in six innings. "I've been working hard for the last two years to be here, and I'm happy with it."
The Blue Jays broke the game wide open in the eighth inning on a pair of home runs by Cabrera and Bautista. Cabrera's solo shot to right was his second in as many games; Bautista's two-run homer was his third of the season. Both came off right-hander David Phelps, who was charged with three runs over his two innings.
Toronto now has an opportunity to secure its first series victory of the season with a win on Sunday afternoon. It's obviously very early, but following last season's disappointing April, the next four games of this homestand are still rather crucial. The same could be said for Dickey, who didn't want a repeat performance of last season's slow start.
"Absolutely, and it's a much better start than I had to the season," Dickey said. "Last year at this time, I was 0-2, had given up three or four home runs and was really searching for my feel. It's nice to have a good outing under my belt within the first couple of outings.
"It always takes a few [games] for everybody here. It takes a few times to get your rhythm going and to get into the heartbeat of the season. So for me, I felt in sync tonight and really rhythmic."