"He opened a lot of eyes through a lot of organizations," Niekro said of Dickey. "I think maybe now there are some organizations realizing that they have some good pitchers in the minor leagues who may be on the bubble and that don't know what to do with them. If they've been throwing knuckleballs on the side, then let's get someone to help them and maybe we can get them to the big leagues and keep them there."

'Take your ego out of it'

Graham said Clark and Gamboa are both good candidates for the transition because they've have arm strength and have consistently shown good command and feel with their conventional arsenal of pitches.

And age isn't an issue when it comes to throwing the knuckleball. More important is the patience to develop it.

"They're young for knuckleballers," Duquette said. "I think you go between your desire to succeed in the big leagues as a conventional pitcher and your fear of failing. I think that's a little bit of a tight-rope walk that the players are making.

"We wanted them to both know that the organization was committed to the project with them, so that they had the confidence to throw the knuckleball in competition and focus on the adjustments they need to make and not worry so much today about the results. That's really the equation that the players need to understand."

That was all Clark needed to know.

"I got to the big leagues," Clark said. "I want to stay there. And conventionally, I'd probably have to be at my best all the time for that to be a likely scenario. With the knuckleball, maybe it takes me a little while to figure it out, but my career could be exponentially longer. It could double or triple what it could have been if I stayed conventional.

"I want to throw knuckleballs," he added. "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."

Gamboa has already found that the most difficult part of learning the pitch is completing buying into it. When he's struggled to control it, he's battled himself on the mound against going back to his conventional stuff.

"Everything is opposite from what you learned pitching," Gamboa said. "With the fastball, you're exploding off the mound. With the knuckleball, it's nice and easy and smooth and you're just kind of floating it in there. That can get frustrating. You have ups and downs. You want to feel good about your stuff and you're throwing a pitch that you really can't command."

Gamboa (1-3), who earned his first win of the season Wednesday, said he's reached the point where he's throwing knuckleballs about 60 percent of the time. His goal is to get between 80 and 90 percent.

"I'm still in that transition," he said. "It is difficult to kind of leave everything else aside and throw the knuckleball. It can really mess with your head. You have to take your ego out of it. I'm not used to [starting] 0-3."

But that's why Niekro, who revolutionized the pitch, is there. He's worked with Gamboa a handful of times, gets reports on the outings he can't attend and says he's on call whenever the Orioles need him to work with Gamboa, Clark and Staniewicz. Staniewicz, 27, has thrown the knuckleball competitively longer, but he's behind the other two and will likely report to short-season Class-A Aberdeen.

"It's such a touchy-feely pitch that it can take them a while to get it," Niekro said. "I told them that you're going to throw one pitch and you're going to say, 'That's it.' It might be one batter, one pitch. It will come.

"But I told Wakefield and I've also told [Gamboa and Clark] this," Niekro said. "'If you ever lose confidence in this knuckleball, you and I are going to have to go to the hospital … to get my size 11 ½ shoe out of your [rear end].' You lose confidence, you've lost it."

eencina@baltsun.com

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