The transformation of Kevin Pucetas is underway.
Pucetas will spend the final month of the Myrtle Beach season trying to become a knuckleball pitcher. He's pitched in the Minor Leagues for nine years and always could throw one, but the Rangers have asked the right-hander to go back to the Pelicans and see how he fares trying to become another R.A. Dickey.
Pucetas used the knuckleball as his main pitch in his final appearance with Double-A Frisco. The right-hander threw 2 2/3 scoreless innings and gained some confidence heading back to Myrtle Beach, but when he joined the Pelicans last week, he gave up six runs on 10 hits in five innings plus three batters in a 6-3 loss to Potomac. It was his first start leaning on the knuckleball.
The veteran is embracing this challenge.
"I kind of had it in the back of my mind," Pucetas said. "I wasn't having a great year in Frisco, I definitely wasn't where I wanted to be with my numbers. So I agreed to give it an evaluation and [said] let's see where this is and where it can take me."
Pucetas throws a slower and harder version of the pitch, using two grips -- he can also throw it with three fingers. In addition, he's started trying to learn the fundamentals involved with controlling the mysterious pitch. The right-hander already spoke with Dickey, the 2012 National League Cy Young Award winner who mastered the knuckler. Dickey sent Puectas a message a few days ago, saying: "I'm here, whatever you need, let me know."
Pucetas also connected with long-time knuckleballer Charlie Hough as well as Rangers special advisor Mark Connor and Myrtle Beach pitching coach Steve Mintz, who emphasized the importance of consistency with the knuckleball, especially involving the release of the pitch.
"He definitely can do it," Mintz said. "It's one of those things that you have to be out there and relax. The delivery has to be methodical. It has to be the same pace all the time."
Mintz said knuckleball pitchers need to be careful because if the pitch isn't thrown right, trouble could ensue very quickly.
"A knuckleball, all you've got to do is touch it in the right place with your bat and it will go a long way," Mintz said. "A knuckleball will fly."
Pucetas hopes to avoid those kinds of situations. He's optimistic, hopeful and curious to see what this month will bring.
"The Rangers were kind of adamant," he said. "They wanted me to pursue this thing; they really wanted me to try and make this change. It was kind of a new challenge. It's something that's been fun."
Absolutely nothing: Salem pitcher Mike Augliera has allowed three hits in 14 scoreless innings in his last two starts. He got the win last Saturday after giving up one hit in seven innings against Frederick following a two-hit, seven-inning effort the previous start in a no-decision versus Lynchburg.
A helping hand: Myrtle Beach gave Potomac too much help in the sixth inning Friday, a big reason the Nationals scored 10 runs in an 11-1 victory. The Pelicans walked three batters, committed two errors, hit one batter and threw a wild pitch.
Timing is everything: Winstom-Salem's Courtney Hawkins got the game-winning hit in the 11th inning in an 8-7 victory over Wilmington on Aug. 1. That turned around a frustrating game for Hawkins, who had been 0-for-5 with three strikeouts before his game-winning double.