Hillman preps Royals for knuckleball
Manager throws pitch in batting practice to simulate Wakefield
KANSAS CITY -- Manager Trey Hillman personally made sure the Royals were ready for Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield on Wednesday by throwing knuckleballs to all of his hitters in batting practice.
"We'll try to get a catcher back there so they can evaluate whether it's going to be in the strike zone," Hillman said. "That's the best way to give guys the opportunity to try and track it. If it starts out in the zone, then most of the time it's going to fall out of the zone."
Hillman first started throwing knuckleballs when he was 13 years old. Throughout his coaching career, he's used the tactic of throwing it in batting practice at several stops. When Hillman managed in the Yankees' organization, he said he once got a phone call asking him to come to New York to throw batting practice, but he ended up not going. The Yankees were facing Wakefield in the postseason.
In recent years, Hillman threw batting practice for his Nippon Ham Fighters team in Japan when they had to face the Hiroshima Carp. The Carp had Jared Fernandez, who was a good knuckleballer.
"It worked very well for us doing that in Japan against the knuckleballer," Hillman said.
The Royals certainly needed the help. Before Wednesday's game, Jose Guillen was the only player in the lineup who'd faced Wakefield more than 10 times. He had an average of .273 against Wakefield entering the game.
Mark Dent is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.