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In shutout loss, Angels find it's hard to prepare for knuckleball

Dino Ebel's practice knuckleballs can't compare to R.A. Dickey's knuckler as Toronto starter blanks Angels

It had been almost 10 months since the Angels last saw R.A. Dickey and his knuckleball — the fluttering, dancing temptress of a pitch that won him a Cy Young in 2012. To prepare for facing Dickey on Tuesday, bench coach Dino Ebel mixed in some knuckleballs during batting practice.

It was little help: The Angels were shut out for just the second time this season in a 4-0 loss to the Blue Jays.

Yes, Dickey’s job seems secure — at least if the challenger is Ebel’s knuckler.

“I don't think it's the same class as Dickey’s,” Manager Mike Scioscia said.

The Angels have had one of the league's most potent offenses this season. They have been held scoreless just once before Tuesday: a 3-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on May 16. They have scored the second-most runs in baseball and are in the top four in the league in average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.

Dickey, meanwhile, has an earned-run average higher than 4.00 and is walking 3.7 batters per nine innings. The last time the Angels faced Dickey — last September — they tagged him for four runs and seven hits in 5 1/3 innings.

This time, Dickey’s knuckler weaved and dodged and avoided Angels’ bats. He allowed just four hits and a walk over seven innings and struck out five. The Angels hardly threatened. They had one hit through five innings. Mike Trout doubled in the sixth but was thrown out trying to extend it into a triple. Aside from that at-bat, the Angels put just two runners in scoring position.

Dickey was able to throw strikes, which forced the hitters to be aggressive. And the knuckler had just enough life to tempt, then betray, batters.

“I felt like I just missed a couple of pitches,” said Chris Iannetta, who was 0 for 2 with a walk against Dickey. “But that’s the name of the game: to have you just miss.”

After the game, Josh Hamilton, stating the obvious, credited Dickey’s success to the fact that “he throws a knuckleball.”

Which, he said, isn’t usually a bad thing.

“I love knuckleball pitchers,” Hamilton said. “I just didn’t get any hits today.” 

Twitter: @zhelfand

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