Zink Knuckles Down

20/20 Commentary

FARM REPORT by Gary Jacobs

Zink Knuckles Down

AUG. 16, 2006 | PAWTUCKET -- Red Sox Nation knows all about the knuckleball.

Tim Wakefield, the Red Sox stalwart hurler who for the last 11 seasons has filled every role the Sox have needed � starter, reliever, even a harrowing stint as closer � has brought the knuckleball to the forefront. Not since Eddie Cicotte � who was traded from the Red Sox in 1912 (and would go on to play a central role in the Chicago Black Sox scandal, getting banned for life from baseball in 1919) - has a member of the Red Sox thrown the knuckler with any regularity.

That might change, and soon. Enter Charlie Zink.

This year, except for a few spot appearances in Portland, he�s spent most of his time in Triple-A Pawtucket. In 12 appearances since last being called back up, Zink is 6-1, with a 2.98 ERA. More importantly to the needs of the Big Club, Zink is averaging six innings per start � the kind of durability that Boston and its beleaguered bullpen requires. Charlie Zink Zink, 25, started off as a more conventional pitcher, with a fastball that hit 92-93, and a serviceable curve. He�s a graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design, where he was coached by Luis Tiant.

Did Tiant encourage the knuckler?

�No no no,� said Zink with a laugh. �I never had it in college. It was all fastball, curveball, change.�

He developed his knuckler as a first-year pro in Sarasota. �I had always messed around with it, playing catch. I happened to throw it with Goose Gregson, our [roving] pitching coordinator. He saw me hit our trainer in the face and split his eye open. That was it. I turned into a knuckleballer from there.�

The transition was not without its rough patches. Zink had trouble maintaining a consistent delivery and his progress through the organization slowed. He spent parts of the 2002, 2003, and 2004 seasons in single-A Sarasota. Only in 2006 has it all come together for Zink.

Though he himself was not particularly pleased with his most recent start this past August 14 against the Buffalo Bisons (�It was real humid � and my hand kept getting moist [interfering with his knuckler]; I couldn�t keep it dry�), it was nonetheless typical of many of his outings � low-scoring, reasonably efficient notwithstanding his difficulties (6.2ip, 3er, 99 pitches), and weighted more towards grounders than flies. The vacuum cleaner that is the Red Sox infield should be a perfect fit for the personable right-hander.

Of course, when you�re talking about the knuckleball, there are some down sides, and Zink�s is no exception. He has walked more men this year (47) than he�s struck out (41); and at times, especially when the wind is blowing, it�s tough to know exactly where his dancing, fluttering, maddening knuckleball will end up.

But with the pitching nightmares that the Red Sox have been enduring, it�s a safe bet that Zink will end up in the bullpen at Fenway before too long.

Gary can be reached at [email protected].

BDD is a feature of Boston.com. All posts are by Steve Silva unless otherwise indicated.

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