Notable Quotables: Gamboa discusses flutterball

By Ashley Marshall

Eddie Gamboa turned in one of the finest starts of his pro career on Wednesday, firing seven shutout innings with a pitch that he’s only had in his arsenal since March (Ben Hill’s feature on Gamboa).

Sure, the Orioles farmhand learned to throw the pitch as a 12-year-old with his father, but now it’s actually something that may fulfill his dreams of becoming a big leaguer.

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I spoke with Gamboa in depth about his knuckleball. You can read the game recap here.

Here’s much more from Gamboa about his repertoire, his mindset and his inspirations.

On incorporating the knuckleball into his game:

“I’ve been throwing my knuckleball about 40 percent of the time. That’s been about my average. I’ve had my high around 65 percent, but I think 40-45 percent is where I feel comfortable throwing it in a game situation, rather than just throwing it and throwing it just to work on it.

“I also throw a two-seamer, a slider and a changeup. I throw my slider to keep them off my fastball, and I throw the changeup to keep them off everything else. I try not to give anybody the same look twice. Sometimes I won’t throw a knuckleball to a guy at all.

“The biggest difference [between success and failure] is just having command of all four pitches so they can’t sit on one pitch. Then I can throw a cutter or a slider at 0-0 or 2-2.

“I’m not really a knuckleball pitcher, but a pitcher who throws a knuckleball. I want to be able to eventually throw it 65 percent [of the time] and have everything else fall after that.”

On the variations of his knuckleball:

“I throw the knuckleball from 65-80 mph. I can throw it slow and I can throw it hard. I have a lot of control over the speed. It can be fluttering at times, and you don’t know where it wants to go. But I made a note of making sure I give them different looks with the knuckleball. I can feel it out to see which one I can control better.

“I can throw it with a three-quarter arm slot or with an over-the-top arm slot. I can throw it slow or hard with a three-quarter arm slot and I can throw it slow or hard coming over the top. I give them different looks and see how they react to it. It’s a matter of getting comfortable and feeling that ‘click.’ Once I do that, I can get away from my old conventional stuff which is the reason I’ve been stuck in the Minor Leagues and not in the Major Leagues.

“I’m still trying to find out what is more comfortable. From what my catchers say, the one over the top will move either left or right, where the three-quarter tails like a slider, away from right-handers and in to left-handers. It’s just a matter of getting comfortable with them. I can throw it all day in the bullpen, but only when there’s a batter and an umpire can you get better, because that’s where it matters. It’s definitely a work in progress, but I’m committed to doing whatever will get me to the big leagues. The Orioles like it, and I’m grateful. I want to do it to fulfill my dream.”

On working with his catchers:

“The catcher sets up in the middle. The only thing he will do sometimes is ask for either the hard or slow knuckleball. He throws down the fingers and I hope for the best.

“I’m a competitive person. People who don’t me maybe don’t know that. You have to have a lot of patience and throw your ego out the window. If you know me, you know I’m all about pitching to contact. I don’t like walking people. I want to throw strikes, get in, get out and keep the defense on their toes. But with the knuckleball, it’s so slow — it’s the opposite. I know I’ll walk a lot of people and that I’ll throw balls and wild pitches and have stolen bases. But [the Orioles] also want me to compete. They want me to work on the pitch in the game, but if there are runners on second and third, I’m not thinking about working on the knuckleball, I’m thinking about getting the hitter out. I’m doing what I love so I can’t complain, but at the same time I still have to get better.”

On his mentors and advisors:

“Phil Niekro has been very supportive. But he lived and died by his knuckleball and I don’t know if I’m there yet. That’s the difference right now, but hopefully one day I can be as great as him. I want to be like R.A. Dickey who had conventional stuff and then got to The Show. I’ve met a lot of great people through the knuckleball. My role model used to be John Smoltz. Now it’s R.A. Dickey and Phil Niekro.

“[Orioles GM] Dan Duquette is good friends with Phil, and he had him come out and watch my games and work on me between starts. He was with me in Spring Training. I’m able to call this Hall of Famer and I have his number. Not many people can do that. It’s a great feeling, having a GM who believes in you. I couldn’t ask for anything better. You play the game for the opportunity and I have a great opportunity in front of me now.”

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