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DODGERS : Science of Knuckleball Is No Concern to Him

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Minor leaguer Jerry Brooks drew the unenviable assignment Thursday of catching Tom Candiotti.

“Uh-oh, here we go,” Brooks said as Candiotti started throwing what he calls his power knuckleball.

“If I can’t catch it, they can’t hit it,” Brooks yelled.

Why and how it moves is puzzling, but Candiotti said that basically it comes down to grabbing the ball and throwing it so it doesn’t spin, an explanation considerably less complicated than those that scientists have sent him in the mail.

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“As far as I’m concerned, the least I know about it the better,” Candiotti said. “I don’t care about gravity and torque and kinetic energy and barometer readings. When I grab a ball with my grip and it doesn’t spin or it spins minimally, then usually it does funny things. Sometimes it goes this way or that way, sometimes it goes up and does little circles. And when you get a catcher like today, he was having a great time with it.

“There are different kind of knuckleballs. The harder you throw the ball, the movement takes place near the end of the flight of the ball. If you throw it slower, the ball doesn’t break as erratic and it’s more tantalizing to the hitters--they want to swing at it.

“But I notice when I throw my hard one, which I call my power knuckleball, a lot of times hitters won’t swing at it unless they have to. That’s the one I was throwing today that was going through the catcher’s legs and hitting off his shoulders.”

Ramon Martinez overpowered a minor league lineup in an intrasquad game, pitching three innings and striking out six batters, but it probably wouldn’t have mattered who he was pitching against.

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His changeup was deadly, his fastball consistent, and he left the practice outing happy and believing that the dog days of last season are over.

“I watched videos of 1990 over the winter to see what I was doing then, and I made a small change,” said Martinez, who was 20-6 with a 2.92 earned-run average in 1990. “My mechanics now are the same as then, but now I look down (at the start of my windup) while I get my arm in position to throw. I’m not rushing it.”

Martinez said he is more comfortable, and so is pitching coach Ron Perranoski.

“He is throwing well, his delivery is more compact and consistent and his fastball is not going all over the place,” Perranoski said. “And his curveball delivery is the same and he is not (tipping off the hitter).”

When he finished pitching, Martinez stood with his brothers, Pedro and Jesus, and compared their abilities. Pedro is fighting for a spot in the Dodgers’ rotation and Jesus pitched a rookie league last season.

“Pedro has the best stuff, Jesus has the best mechanics and I am the teacher,” Martinez said, smiling. “I hope we will pitch together in the same rotation soon.”

Mike Moore, a former UCLA outfielder and the Dodgers’ second selection in last June’s draft, hit two home runs, one in the ninth inning that won the game.

Neither owner George Steinbrenner nor Wade Boggs is expected to accompany the New York Yankees to Vero Beach today for a Grapefruit League opener.

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