Charlie Zink began experimenting with the knuckleball when he was 12 years old, after seeing a rookie for the Pittsburgh Pirates throw the pitch in a 1992 playoff game.
Some kid named Wakefield.
17 years later, Wake is throwing the knuckler as well as ever while Zink is struggling to control one of the game’s biggest mysteries.
(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)
On Sunday, Charlie won his first game in nearly two months as Pawtucket beat Columbus 3-2. For the season, he’s 5-11 with a 5.49 ERA.
Zink certainly earned the victory as he allowed 2 runs on 4 hits in 6 IP against the International League’s top scoring team.
But it wasn’t easy. Charlie issued 6 walks and hit a batter without recording a strikeout. Since whiffing Syracuse’s Jorge Padilla to begin a game on July 11th, Zink has issued 18 walks and hit 7 batters without recording a strikeout.
From his first start of the year in which Charlie walked 6 batters and hit a pair, he’s had trouble keeping the butterfly in the strike zone.
Last year when he was the International League’s Most Valuable Pitcher, Zink only walked 49 batters in 174.1 IP – an average of 2.5 walks per 9 innings.
This year, Charlie has walked 73 batters in 101.2 IP – an average of 6.5 walks per 9 innings.
So what happened?
Perhaps we should look back at that Wakefield kid.
As a 25-year-old rookie with Pittsburgh in ’92, Wake was 8-1 with a 2.15 ERA and averaged 3.4 walks/per 9 IP.
The following year with the Pirates, he was 6-11 with a 5.61 ERA and averaged 5.3 walks/per 9 IP.
The year after that, Wake was 5-15 with a 5.84 ERA for Triple-A Buffalo leading to his release.
Wakefield figured it out the next year and picked up the first of his 175 wins (and counting) in a Red Sox uniform. This year, he was an All-Star for the first time at the age of 42.
Charlie Zink is 29. Hall-of-Famer Phil Niekro pitched until he was 48 and won 208 games after turning 35.
Here’s hoping the best is yet to come for Chuck the Knuck too.
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I will not be behind the mic for Monday’s game against Columbus. I am heading to Cincinnati for another fill-in stint on the Reds radio network.
I’ll call tonight’s game against the Padres with Hall-of-Fame broadcaster Marty Brennaman before rejoining the PawSox on Tuesday when they open a 4-game series in Buffalo.
If you would like to catch some of tonight’s broadcast, tune in to WLW radio. It’s 700-AM and can be heard just about anywhere in the US. On a clear night, it reaches 38 states!
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