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 gary@soxfarmreport.com.

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

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