Ward becomes Orioles' knuckleball expert

Ward becomes Orioles' knuckleball expert
March 1, 2014, 1:45 pm

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SARASOTA, Fla. – Brian Ward has been in the Orioles organization since 2009, and he’s now perhaps the most accomplished defensive catcher in the team’s minor league system.

Pitchers like throwing to him, especially knuckleballers. Last year, Zach Clark started throwing one, and he joined Eddie Gamboa in the no spin zone.

“Just to get as comfortable as you can. It’s pretty much repetition, try to catch them as much as you can in the bullpen so that it becomes natural,” Ward said.

Clark was a conventional pitcher who reached the major leagues last year, and then was sent down to learn how to become a knuckleballer. He throws a harder knuckleball than does Gamboa, who throws fastballs, cut fastballs and changeups.

Never had caught a knuckleball, not even in high school or college and he needed a new glove at Bowie. 

“At the beginning of the year last year, we didn’t have a knuckleball glove,” Ward said. “Eddie finally got one sent to him, and that made a big difference.”

The knuckleball catcher’s glove is a cross between a first baseman and catcher’s mitt. Minor league catching coordinator Don Werner gave Ward some advice.

“You’ve got to be as comfortable as possible and try not to blink,” Ward said.

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An occupational hazard to catching the knuckler is passed balls. Ward had three last year, two attributed to catching the knuckleball.

“You never want to run back to the backstop. You’re catching a knuckleball that’s dancing all over the place. I wouldn’t get as upset as with a normal pitch,” Ward said.