Friday night's game between the Blue Jays and Rays was notable for two reasons. One, it marked the return of Alex Cobb, back after missing more than a season and a half due to Tommy John surgery. Second, it represented the debut of the majors' newest knuckleballer: Eddie Gamboa.
Gamboa, a 31-year-old who converted to knuckling a few years back on a whim, had been recalled last season by the Orioles, but failed to appear in a game. That changed on Friday, obviously, as he faced four batters, walking two, allowing a hit, and striking out Michael Saunders on -- what else -- a knuckleball. Here's how Gamboa received the news he was headed to the Show, courtesy of Durham Bulls manager Jared Sandberg:
There's always intrigue whenever a new knuckleballer arrives, and Gamboa is no exception. In 94 Triple-A innings, he posted a 2.68 ERA and allowed zero home runs. He also recorded 2.28 strikeouts per walk. Solid marks.
Stuff-wise, knucklers are tougher to scout than the typical lot -- gimmick pitches (and pitchers, for that matter) are often judged on a succeed-or-fail basis. So far, he's succeeded.
The reassuring news for Gamboa is that he should get a legitimate look from the Rays -- and not just because they lack competitive aspirations. The Rays spent the winter stocking up on knuckleballers, even hiring former big-leaguer Charlie Haeger as a pitching coordinator. It seems as though the organization is intent on testing whether the wind-free Tropicana Field is the idyllic butterfly garden it's made out to be.
Gamboa makes for a worthy initial subject. We'll find out soon enough if he flourishes like a blue morpho -- or if the league clips his wings.