Dickey named NL Cy Young

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Dickey named NL Cy Young

NEW YORK (AP) -- R.A. Dickey languished in the minors for 14 years, bouncing from one team to another before finally perfecting that perplexing knuckleball that made him a major league star.

David Price was the top pick in the draft and an ace by age 25, throwing 98 mph heat with a left arm live enough to make the most hardened scout sing.

Raised only 34 miles apart in central Tennessee, Dickey and Price won baseball's Cy Young awards on Wednesday - one by a wide margin, the other in a tight vote.

Two paths to the pantheon of pitching have rarely been more different.

''Isn't that awesome?'' said Dickey, the first knuckleballer to win a Cy Young. ''It just shows you there's not just one way to do it, and it gives hope to a lot of people.''

Dickey said he jumped up and yelled in excitement, scaring one of his kids, when he saw on television that Price edged Justin Verlander for the American League prize. Both winners are represented by Bo McKinnis, who watched the announcements with Dickey at his home in Nashville, Tenn.

''I guess we can call him Cy agent now,'' Price quipped on a conference call.

The hard-throwing lefty barely beat out Verlander in balloting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, preventing the Detroit Tigers' ace from winning consecutive Cy Youngs.

Runner-up two years ago, Price was the pick this time. He received 14 of 28 first-place votes and finished with 153 points to 149 for Verlander, chosen first on 13 ballots.

''It means a lot,'' Price said. ''It's something that I'll always have. It's something that they can't take away from me.''

Other than a 1969 tie between Mike Cuellar and Denny McLain, it was the closest race in the history of the AL award.

Rays closer Fernando Rodney got the other first-place vote and came in fifth.

The 38-year-old Dickey was listed first on 27 of 32 National League ballots and totaled 209 points, 113 more than 2011 winner Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Washington lefty Gio Gonzalez finished third.

Cincinnati right-hander Johnny Cueto and Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel each received a first-place vote, as did Gonzalez. Kershaw had two.

Dickey joined Dwight Gooden (1985) and three-time winner Tom Seaver as the only Mets to win the award. The right-hander went 20-6 with a 2.73 ERA, making him the club's first 20-game winner since Frank Viola in 1990, and became the first major leaguer in 24 years to throw consecutive one-hitters.

Perhaps most impressive, Dickey did it all during a season when the fourth-place Mets finished 74-88.

''It just feels good all over,'' he said on MLB Network.

Dickey switched from conventional pitcher to full-time knuckleballer in a last-ditch effort to save his career. It took him years to finally master the floating, darting pitch, which he often throws harder (around 80 mph) and with more precision than almost anyone who used it before him.

''I knew what I was going to be up against in some regard when I embraced this pitch,'' Dickey said.

He was the first cut at Mets spring training in 2010 but earned a spot in the big league rotation later that season and blossomed into a dominant All-Star this year. He led the NL in strikeouts (230), innings (233 2-3), complete games (five) and shutouts (three) - pitching through an abdominal injury most of the way.

''I am not a self-made man by any stretch of the imagination,'' Dickey said. ''The height of this story, it's mind-blowing to me, it really is.''

A member of the 1996 U.S. Olympic team and a first-round draft pick out of Tennessee, Dickey was devastated when the Texas Rangers reduced their signing-bonus offer from more than 800,000 to 75,000 after they discovered during a physical that he was missing a major ligament in his pitching elbow.

Undeterred, perseverance got him to the big leagues anyway. When he failed, the knuckleball brought him back.

Among those he thanked ceaselessly for helping him on that long and winding road to success were all his proud knuckleball mentors, including Charlie Hough, Tim Wakefield and Hall of Famer Phil Niekro.

''It brings a real degree of legitimacy I think to the knuckleball fraternity and I'm glad to represent them and I'm certainly grateful to all those guys,'' Dickey said. ''This was a victory for all of us.''

Dickey said he received 127 text messages and 35-40 phone calls in the moments immediately following the Cy Young announcement.

The only call he took was from Niekro, a 318-game winner from 1964-87. The first texts Dickey responded to were from Wakefield and Hough.

''Most well-deserved,'' Niekro said in a comment provided by the Hall of Fame. ''I'm super proud of him, as a pitcher and as an individual.''

Dickey has one year left on his contract at 5.25 million and New York general manager Sandy Alderson has said signing the pitcher to a multiyear deal is one of his top offseason priorities. Alderson, however, would not rule out trading his unlikely ace.

''I believe the Mets are going to be a lot better and I want to be part of the solution,'' Dickey said, adding that he hopes the sides can strike a deal and he'd be happy to end his career in New York.

''I want to be loyal to an organization that's given me an opportunity,'' he said. ''At the same time, you don't want to be taken advantage of. I've been on that side of it, too, as a player.''

Price went 20-5 to tie Jered Weaver for the American League lead in victories and winning percentage. The 27-year-old lefty had the lowest ERA at 2.56 and finished sixth in strikeouts with 205.

Verlander, also the league MVP a year ago, followed that up by going 17-8 with a 2.64 ERA and pitching the Detroit Tigers to the World Series. He led the majors in strikeouts (239), innings (238 1-3) and complete games (six).

Price tossed 211 innings in 31 starts, while Verlander made 33. One factor that could have swung some votes, however, was this: Price faced stiffer competition in the rugged AL East than Verlander did in the AL Central.

''I guess it's a blessing and a curse at the same time,'' Price said. ''There's not an easy out in the lineups every game. It feels like a postseason game.''

The No. 1 pick in the 2007 amateur draft out of Vanderbilt, Price reached the majors the following year and has made three straight All-Star teams.

Despite going 19-6 with a 2.72 ERA in 2010, he finished a distant second in Cy Young voting to Felix Hernandez, who won only 13 games for last-place Seattle but dominated most other statistical categories that year.

The two MVP awards will be announced Thursday. Verlander's teammate, Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, is a leading contender in the American League.

NOTES: The last AL pitcher to win back-to-back Cy Youngs was Boston's Pedro Martinez in 1999 and 2000. San Francisco RHP Tim Lincecum did it in the National League in 2008-09. ... Price and Dickey became the fourth pair of Cy Young winners born in the same state, according to STATS. The others were Jim Lonborg and Mike McCormick in 1967 (California), Viola and Orel Hershiser in 1988 (New York) and Pat Hentgen and John Smoltz in 1996 (Michigan). ... Niekro and his brother, Joe, both finished second in Cy Young voting, as did fellow knuckleballer Wilbur Wood.

Rick Hahn: Filling fifth spot in White Sox rotation a 'fluid situation'

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Rick Hahn: Filling fifth spot in White Sox rotation a 'fluid situation'

Erik Johnson gets the first chance at the No. 5 spot in the White Sox rotation, but the situation is hardly finalized.

The White Sox announced Tuesday that they would promote Johnson from Triple-A Charlotte in time to make Thursday’s start in place of John Danks, whom they will officially designated for assignment later this week. But just because Johnson gets the first start doesn’t mean he’s here for good, general manager Rick Hahn said.

Hahn and the White Sox have made it clear they want better production from the fifth spot, whether it's from an internal or an external option.

“It’s going to be a bit of a fluid situation,” Hahn said.

Hahn is comfortable with the team’s internal options at Charlotte beyond Johnson.

Miguel Gonzalez, who started last Monday in Toronto, has a solid major league track record. Then there’s Jacob Turner, who has 27 strikeouts in 26 2/3 innings with a 3.04 ERA in five starts.

But Hahn also said the White Sox wouldn’t shy away from looking outside the farm system, either. Hahn declined to answer whether or not the White Sox would watch Tim Lincecum’s tryout Friday in Scottsdale, Ariz. before he noted the club has “scouts everywhere.”

The White Sox could also try and use their internal options to get by for several months before adding another pitcher ahead of the trade deadline.

No matter whom they turn to, the expectation is better results than the White Sox received from Danks, who was 0-4 with a 7.25 ER in four starts.

“Obviously, Erik starts on Thursday,” Hahn said. “After that, we may well make another move next week as we try to accomplish two things with that spot -- first and foremost, get greater production than we’ve been receiving thus far this year.”

“We do have a few internal options.

“If it does get to the point where we’re better off going outside the organization, obviously we’ve never been shy about doing that.”

The Cubs Way could become bludgeoning your opponent with AL East-style lineup

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The Cubs Way could become bludgeoning your opponent with AL East-style lineup

PITTSBURGH – Beating Gerrit Cole in last year’s National League wild-card game became a landmark victory for The Plan. A young Cubs lineup didn’t panic or play tight and you have to wonder what the Pittsburgh Pirates are thinking right now. Because this looks like a vastly superior version of the team that won 97 games and silenced the blackout crowd at PNC Park.

The Cubs didn’t even need a superhuman effort from Jake Arrieta, who walked the first two Pirates he faced on Tuesday night before throwing seven scoreless innings and cruising to a 7-1 victory in front of a half-empty stadium.

While the Cubs (19-6) have used a pitching-and-defense formula to create the best record in baseball – and what they hope will be a better blueprint for October – this offense still isn’t close to clicking on all cylinders yet.

Not that Pittsburgh’s Jonathon Niese – who couldn’t crack the playoff rotation for the New York Mets last year – would notice after giving up six runs, nine hits and five walks across five innings in a drama-free game that didn’t create more fireworks in a rivalry that’s heating up.

But the difference is dramatic enough that Cubs manager Joe Maddon keeps having flashbacks to his time with the Tampa Bay Rays and trying to take down the superpowers in Boston and New York.

“Right now, you’re seeing a group of guys playing the game today who have one thought – and that is to wear this pitcher down collectively,” Maddon said. “You’ve seen it in the past – I saw it in the early 2000s with the Red Sox and the Yankees in the American League East – they would definitely wear you down. They would get in your ‘pen, and then they'd bludgeon you at that point.”

Getting into the bullpen doesn’t exactly mean batting practice in an age of specialization, information overload and multiple options approaching triple-digit velocity. But this is a snapshot of the Cubs entering Tuesday: Ranked second in the majors in runs scored (146) and on-base percentage (.361) while leading everyone in walks (129) and dropping to 24th in strikeouts (188).

Even with Kyle Schwarber recovering from knee surgery, Miguel Montero resting his back on the disabled list and Jason Heyward (zero homers, .573 OPS) getting treatment for a sore wrist.

“We want to hit strikes,” said catcher David Ross, who won a World Series ring with the 2013 Red Sox. “We’re not out there taking pitches (just to take them). Guys are looking for their pitch.

“I see maturity in the approach from a young, talented group, which is completely different than Boston, which was more of an established veteran group that had been around the block. (But) I’m seeing that kind of approach with this group.”

Among all qualified NL hitters, five Cubs ranked between 14th and 50th in terms of pitches seen per plate appearance: Dexter Fowler (4.20); Addison Russell (4.12); Heyward (3.98); Anthony Rizzo (3.96); and Ben Zobrist (3.85).

“A lot of times when you see a positive jump in moments like that, it’s probably because of new personnel,” Maddon said. “I’ve always talked about: If you want walks, buy walks. If you want less strikeouts, buy less strikeouts.

“I also think about the maturity. Addison is a classic example of a guy that’s really matured in regards to not expanding the strike zone. Even ‘Javy’ (Javier Baez) has definitely shown a different attitude at the plate. For the most part, (Jorge) Soler is not chasing like he did for a period of time last year. So it’s the maturation of the hitter plus the acquisitions definitely help.

“You talk philosophy or theory with groups and everybody listens. But do they really hear what you’re saying?

“You have to get a buy-in from everybody. (And) these guys all believe that’s the right way to do things."

That’s becoming The Cubs Way.

Jake Arrieta stellar again as Cubs roll past Pirates

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Associated Press

Jake Arrieta stellar again as Cubs roll past Pirates

PITTSBURGH – This time, the Cubs didn’t need to consult their no-hitter protocol with Jake Arrieta, who walked the first two Pittsburgh Pirates he faced on Tuesday night at PNC Park before slicing up that lineup again with surgical precision.

Arrieta returned to the scene of his shutdown performance in last year’s National League wild-card game, giving up only two singles across seven scoreless innings in a 7-1 victory before the Cubs pulled the plug at 99 pitches with a six-run lead.

Arrieta (6-0, 0.84 ERA) is clearly going to do everything he can to defend his Cy Young Award. The Cubs (19-6) have now won Arrieta’s last 19 regular-season starts, opening up a five-game lead in the division and going for the sweep on Wednesday afternoon with Jon Lester on the mound.