MIAMI – R.A. Dickey decided to pass on the opportunity to start the Braves’ season finale Sunday, but the 42-year-old knuckleballer hasn’t said whether he intends to retire or pitch again in 2018.
Dickey told Braves manager Brian Snitker of his decision regarding the Sunday game against Miami when the two met Thursday afternoon at Marlins Park before the opener of a season-ending four-game series. Snitker said a day earlier in New York that he would leave it up to Dickey whether he wanted to pitch the season finale or have rookie Max Fried make the start.
“We’re going to start Max,” Snitker said in announcing the decision. “I talked to (Dickey) in there today. It’s kind of like, he’s had enough. I think health-wise, if we were in a pennant race or something like that, he’d be raring to go. But I just wanted to give him that option, whether or not he wanted to pitch the last game. So he just kind of decided, let Maxie have it.”
Dickey will meet with reporters Friday, but isn’t expected to announce his career plans until after the season. Some close to the team thought his declining to pitch Sunday was an indication that the former Cy Young Award winner had probably made up his mind to retire, while others who’ve spoken with him about his future said it wasn’t clear if he’d made up his mind yet.
He has said in recent weeks that he wouldn’t decide until after the season. The Braves signed Dickey to one-year contract in November that came with a $7.5 million salary in 2017 and an $8 million team option for 2018 that carried a $500,000 buyout.
Dickey was 10-10 with a 4.26 ERA in a team-high 190 innings over 31 starts, falling short of his goals of 32 starts and 200 innings (the latter revised down late in the season from his initial target of 210 innings). Nevertheless, he did what the Braves hoped he’d do – unlike Bartolo Colon, the other 40-something former Cy Young Award winner they signed early in the free-agent period, who was a huge disappointment before the Braves released him in July.
Dickey covered a lot of innings, gave the Braves a chance to win in most of his starts, and set a great example for younger pitchers while serving as a bridge to the future as highly regarded Braves pitching prospects start to arrive to fill in the rotation, which they have throughout the summer beginning with the debut of Sean Newcomb and continuing with the debuts of Max Fried, Lucas Sims and Luiz Gohara.
In his last start Tuesday at Citi Field, against the team he won his Cy Young Award with in 2012, Dickey took a two-hit shutout to the seventh inning before giving up a homer and leaving after 6 2/3 innings. He was charged with five hits, two runs and no walks with four strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings, and tipped his cap when he received a warm ovation from many in the crowd of 21,938 as he left the field in the seventh inning at Citi Field.
Some read into that and his postgame comments that Dickey had decided to call it a career.
“It’s great coming back here,” he said. “I have a lot of history here. This is a place where I really resurrected my career, so there’s some poetry to throwing well here, especially in one of the last outings of the year. It was nice to get to tip my hat to a bunch of fans who really supported me while I was here and beyond.”
But Snitker said he didn’t discuss Dickey’s future with the pitcher, only whether he wanted to start Sunday. And he understood Dickey’s decision to let the rookie Fried take the spot.
“He’d had enough,” Snitker said of Dickey. “I think it’s just -- it’s a long season. If we needed that game to get into the wild card, he’d pitch it. But we don’t. Max is good to go, so we’re going to give it to him. (Dickey) has been amping it up for the last six months. I wanted to give him that option – if he wanted to go out there and pitch, heck yeah, I’d love to have him do it.
“I told him, you’ve went above and beyond what we signed you for. That guy, he’s always on the ground, he’s always diving, making a play. Landed on his shoulder a couple of times. He’s been beat up a little bit. Every time you look up he’s on base, getting a hit, all the stuff. He plays the game. That’s why I kind of – I don’t blame him. I’m sure when he gets out of bed in the morning it’s not an easy stroll, until he gets everything going.”
More Braves starting-pitcher prospects figure to be knocking on the door next season, but the Braves still would like to add at least one frontline starter if they can trade for a pitcher with multiple years of contractual control. Whether they can accomplish that or think they can might play into their decision whether to pick up the option on Dickey if he decides to keep pitching. The Braves have until the week after the World Series to decide whether to pick up the option.
For now, Julio Teheran and Mike Foltynewicz appear to be the only near-certainties for next year’s rotation along with the bevy of rookies and prospects, and the Foltynewicz’s late-season slide was hardly the stuff to boost confidence in his viability as a top-of-the-rotation type of starter in 2018. He had a 5.74 ERA in his last 17 starts, lost his last seven starts and hasn’t pitched since cutting the tip of his right middle finger while rubbing the baseball in his Sept. 14 start.
After Dickey’s Tuesday start at New York, the Braves are starting Teheran and four rookies in their last five games – Newcomb started Wednesday, Gohara starts Friday, Sims on Saturday and Fried on Sunday.
“That’s something else,” Snitker said. “But it’s good. They’re getting valuable innings and experience. Like I said, you can’t replicate this anywhere other than here. ... I love watching the young guys grow. That’s kind of where we’re at. It’s fun to watch Lucas and Gohara and Newcomb all the time, Max when he’s gotten the opportunity. I mean, these are great experiences for them.”