JUPITER, Fla. -- In a mild surprise for the first day of live batting practice for position players, everyday "core" players Skip Schumaker and Matt Holliday drew the unenviable assignment of facing Charlie Zink, the camp's lone knuckleballer.
Zink, a former International League Most Valuable Pitcher (see: 2008), was one of the few six-year free agents signed by the St. Louis Cardinals this past season. He's earmarked for the Triple-A rotation in Memphis, and he's in major-league camp getting his fluttering pitch in tune. Since Ryan Franklin gave up his knuckleball for the ninth inning, Zink is the only practitioner of the pitch -- other than the backup catcher or two toying around with one.
Holliday watched Zink take his warmups and told Schumaker and others that he was going to hit his first home run of spring training. Zink threw two knuckleballs high and tight to Holliday in his first at-bat. Then he got him to swing and waaaaay miss on a knuckleball. For his final pitch, Zink threw a fastball on the outside edge of the plate. Holliday winced as he took the pitch.
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"Oh," he said. "That was fun."
In his next at-bat, things turned out differently, as you'll see -- by Zink's reaction -- in this slow-motion video shot by uber-photog Chris Lee. Holliday's bat comes in the picture late on Zink's knuckleball and if you can't tell by Zink's reaction know that the ball landed somewhere out beyond the left-field fence. Two other knuckleballs are featured in this clip to give you a slo-mo view of its unpredictable dance.
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The hitter featured in the last clip is outfielder Nick Stavinoha.