Knuckleball affecting Thole's catching

May, 5, 2011
Josh Thole will be back behind the plate Friday after a two-day break from the starting lineup.

The prevailing theory is that Thole, who has seven passed balls, has displayed bad habits while catching the entire staff -- such as stabbing at pitches with his glove -- because of his involvement catching R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball. And because Thole does not have the catching experience to fall back upon, he may be more susceptible to drifting away from proper technique.

Josh Thole

New York Mets


2011 Season Stats
27 0 8 4 .308 .253
Thole was a catcher through high school while growing up in Breese, Ill. But the 13th-round pick in 2005 caught a total of 26 games during his first three professional seasons. He returned from first base to primarily catching in May 2008 when the first-string catcher at Class A St. Lucie got off to a terrible start at the plate.

Now, the Mets plan to limit Thole’s catching of Dickey’s knuckleball outside of games to guard against him getting into bad habits.

“It’s a completely different thing,” catching instructor Jon Debus said, contrasting catching Dickey’s knuckleball with receiving traditional offerings. “I’m not sure that’s not screwing him up sometimes. There’s a lot of stabbing and a lot of grabbing stuff [with the knuckleball]. And that’s what he’s doing. Maybe we’ve just got to limit the amount of times he catches it, like in bullpens.

“He’s caught 300 baseball games in his life. It’s like anything else -- when you don’t have that years of a base, when things go bad, it’s hard to find home. That’s what he’s going through now. It’s a little bit harder for him, but he’s fine.”

Dickey and Debus on Thursday discussed not catching Dickey’s bullpen sessions.

Said Thole: “I said, ‘I don’t think that’s an issue with the streak I’m going through.’ But if that’s what he thinks is best for me, then that’s what we’re going to do.”

As for Terry Collins holding him out of the starting lineup consecutive games, only in the latter game with the Mets facing a left-hander, Thole said: “Don’t get me wrong, nobody wants to have a day off, much less two days off. But I went down to the bullpen and caught some of the guys down there [Chris Young and Ryota Igarashi] and just got used to seeing the ball, catching the baseball, that kind of stuff. That was more beneficial than me just sitting in the dugout, not doing anything. I caught some bullpens yesterday, caught off the machine, and I started feeling, I guess you can say, back to normal. I just think it was a bad streak. My receiving mechanics are off. It’s making me late to balls.”

Dickey, like Thole, was not so sure his knuckleball was screwing Thole up, but Dickey did explain the difference in catching techniques.

“When you catch a knuckleballer, you really have to wait for the ball to come to you. You can’t go out to get it or it’ll break and you’ll be chasing balls all day,” Dickey said. “The set-up is a little bit different. You want to be in the most comfortable position that allows your hands to really work, whereas with a conventional guy you can really be locked in and stable. I [require] a bigger glove, one that he may not be as comfortable with.

“There is a different mentality, and there are some things from a technique standpoint that you probably do differently in catching a conventional guy. But, at the same time, he did a fantastic job last year in both roles. I don’t know if you can necessarily pin any of his struggles on that fact, that he’s catching me and then having to catch other guys. He did it really well last year.”

Read the full story here.
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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