More on Lance Niekro and the Knuckler

From an article in the San Francisco Chronicle (ahem, where is the AJC on this?):

The Braves are intrigued by the notion of turning Niekro into a big-league knuckleball pitcher and do not see this as a lark.

"I don't think you'd ever undertake anything unless you felt it could develop into something," said Kurt Kemp, the Braves' director of player development. "We all feel it's definitely one of those things like, what have we got to lose? We surely aren't looking at it as a novelty, but as something nontraditional. We're legitimately going to set a course of action to develop his knuckleball and give him a chance to pitch through spring training and see where we are."

Niekro lives close to the Braves' spring complex near Orlando. He will report to minor-league camp in mid-February and work with Uncle Phil, the Hall of Fame knuckleballer who pitched in Atlanta from 1966-83 and continues to be what Kemp called "a great ambassador" for the Braves.

Phil and Lance have been working seriously on the pitch for about five weeks. Phil is visiting Lance's home now for pitching lessons and some fishing.

There will be challenges. Lance had surgery on his right shoulder early in his pro career and confessed the shoulder has been barking at him since he started throwing this winter. He also has to develop some secondary pitches.

"I'm working on a few," he said. "I can't give away all my secrets."

He will get an invite to spring training, so we'll get to see him in some spring games if all goes well early in camp. You really couldn't have any better teacher for the knuckleball than Phil Niekro, so it's no wonder the Braves have high hopes for Lance. I would guess they're not thinking he can make the big league club out of spring training, but a few months to a year of minor league ball (perhaps in Gwinett) could be enough to get him ready to redebut in the majors as a pitcher.

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