BOWIE -- Right-hander Zach Clark has never thrown a knuckleball in a game, but the UMBC graduate would often tinker with the pitch while playing catch during his eight years in the minors.
On Friday afternoon, Clark – who within a span of 10 days made his major league debut, was designated for assignment and then optioned to Double-A Bowie to begin a transition toward becoming a knuckleball pitcher – threw his first bullpen session using the pitch.
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Watching closely behind him was Hall of Fame knuckleballer Phil Niekro, whom the Orioles brought in during spring training to work with minor leaguers Eddie Gamboa and Zach Staniewicz to help them hone their knuckleballs.
The 29-year-old Clark is embracing the tutelage from Niekro, who spent 24 years in the major and pitched until he was 48.
“I threw like a 120-pitch bullpen today,” Clark said. “I like to throw a lot. Phil was telling me, ‘I was playing catch all the time. I was on the mound every day.’ I’m like, ‘Perfect!’ This is awesome. I love to throw. I love baseball. It’s a challenge and I want to do it.”
Clark plans to test the pitch in his first start for Bowie on Sunday.
Neikro was in Bowie to watch Gamboa’s start on Thursday and work with the pair on Friday and Saturday.
Clark was called up last week to provide bullpen depth and made one major league appearance, allowing three runs over 1 2/3 innings Wednesday in Seattle. He was designated for assignment Saturday to allow the team 40-man space for Freddy Garcia, and he was outrighted to Bowie on Monday afternoon.
Clark said that while he was with the Orioles in Anaheim, he saw Adair throwing a knuckleball while warming up before a game. Clark said he went up to Adair and told him he’s thrown the pitch on occasion. The next day in Anaheim, he threw the pitch for Adair and Showalter from the bullpen mounds.
“I want to throw knuckleballs,” Clark said. “I don’t know what they’re looking for, but if that’s going be what I can do to help a big league team win, or to get to the big leagues and potentially add years to my career, I’ll do that. It’s a way for me to play baseball longer.”