Joseph on catching Gamboa and the knuckler

SARASOTA, Fla. - The Orioles like the nightlife. I’m not sure whether they boogie.

It’s back-to-back night games on the road. What could be better?

Chris Tillman gets the start against the Twins in Fort Myers, and he could be pushed to three innings after working two in his debut Friday against the Rays. Zach Britton and Steve Johnson also will pitch.

The clubhouse opens to the media at 9:45 a.m. Johan Santana will be made available to reporters before or after his workout.

Eddie Gamboa was on the travel roster last night, but he didn’t get into the game. He could board the bus again this afternoon.

Gamboa has struck out three of the four batters he’s faced this spring. Caleb Joseph was behind the plate on Sunday when Gamboa fanned his only hitter.

They have a history, which makes it a little easier for Joseph while Gamboa transitions to knuckleballer.

“I caught him pretty much the first half of Bowie’s season,” Joseph said. “I think he made 10 or 15 starts. He was really fresh into it, so we were both just experimenting with percentages, what he wanted to throw. I think he started wanting to be competitive with it, where if he threw some balls, he could still go conventional to keep himself in the inning.

“Starting off pitching with the knuckler in Double-A is kind of tough, so I knew that he felt he still wanted to be competitive. We had a bunch of starts where he threw close to 50 percent, where it was knuckler and then conventional. And then as we tried to take it up to 70-75 percent, he kind of lost a little bit more control and didn’t feel as competitive. He went to Triple-A and did the same thing. That’s when he went back to Mexico and kind of kept it around 50 percent, which is where I think he feels really comfortable. Still being able to be competitive while still learning it.”

Joseph, 27, got a crash course on the knuckler from R.A. Dickey in Nashville.

“He told me that it took him five years to really figure out how to control it,” Joseph said. “I think Eddie’s still trying to feel it out while still trying to be competitive. Eddie can run (the fastball) up there at 90. It’s impressive.

“He has a really good feel for (the knuckler). I’m impressed. He threw a lot of really good ones (Sunday). I think four of them were foul balls or swing and miss, and he got a guy looking at a knuckleball. I think the thing that makes him so different is he has such a good feel of his other pitches that he can zip a fastball in there, or a cutter or a changeup, and it keeps him competitive without players just being able to sit straight knuckleball and being able to really take it until they get one.

“Now, if he throws his conventional stuff, he’s back into the count or even ahead in the count, where he puts the hitter on the defensive right away. I like it that way. I’m not really sure what everybody’s wanting in terms of percentages, but I like him at 50 percent because he stays competitive.

“The fact he can run it up there 90 really helps. He’s been working on his deception, too, because his knuckleball delivery does have a little bit slower action. I know in the past when he’s tried to really throw a fastball, he kind of humps up and he kind of sells it, but he did a really good job of keeping that same motion, and the ball really zips even harder out of his hand. I think what people worry about when he’s only 50 percent is being able to still have the feel for the knuckleball. I know that’s probably an issue, but so far, every time I’ve caught him when he’s around 50 percent, he still has really good control. It’s not like knuckleball, conventional, conventional and then he has no feel for the knuckleball. That’s what I think people are worried about.”

Joseph seems comfortable catching the knuckler - until you ask him.

“No. Never. Never. You’re never comfortable ever,” he said.

“Dickey asked me, ‘You know the easiest way to catch a knuckleballer?’ I said, ‘Yeah, please tell me.’ He said, ‘Wait till it stops rolling and go pick it up.’ It’s hard because you have to be so relaxed and you really can’t make a jab at it. You try to catch it as close to your body as possible, because the good ones take off at the last minute, and if you reach out there to get it, it will dart on you. So, when you start getting kind of anxious and nervous to catch it, that’s when you start getting out there, and then you’re screwed.

“It’s hard to let maybe one get by you or not catch it good, and then get in your head. You have to really calm your mind down. It’s more of a mind game than anything. You just have to stick with the process of, ‘I’ve got to let this thing get to me, get to me, get to me,’ and then finally catch it. But you’re never comfortable. The only time I’m comfortable is when I’m not putting down that sign.”

Joseph is back in major league camp after not receiving an invite last year, his reward for batting .299/.346/.494 with 31 doubles, 22 homers and 97 RBIs at Bowie. But he still isn’t on the 40-man roster and again was exposed in the Rule 5 draft.

“Everybody has dreams and hopes,” Joseph said. “First and foremost, I just want to play in the big leagues. If that means not being on the 40-man for another month, two months, a year or whatever, it is what it is. I had a really good year last year and I’m excited to be back in camp. I wasn’t in camp last year and it was a motivation to come back. And whenever you’re invited to big league camp, you feel like you at least have at least somewhat of a shot to make an impression. I’m just thankful for the opportunity just to try to make an impression.

“I just want to build on last year, and if I can build on last year and continue to do that, then maybe I can force a hand. Who knows? But this game’s weird. I’m just glad to be in big league camp because the money allows me and my wife to sit down and eat as opposed to drive-thrus four nights a week, so that’s exciting.”

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