After re-signing with O’s, Zach Clark’s work with the knuckler will continue in 2014

He became a minor league free agent a few days after the World Series, but right-hander Zach Clark re-signed with the Orioles early this month to continue pitching for the organization he has been with since the 2006 season.

After his wild ride last year - which saw him make the majors briefly, get designated for assignment and then begin throwing a knuckleball at three different levels of the minors - maybe this year will be less eventful for the 30-year-old from Wilmington, Del.

“I’m glad to have an opportunity, which is all I can ask for,” Clark said of remaining an Oriole.

He certainly found out that throwing a knuckler consistently for strikes is hard and takes time. His pursuit of consistency with the pitch will continue this season.

He went 3-15 with a 7.84 ERA in the minors in 2013. Over 111 1/3 innings he gave up 134 hits with 75 walks and 65 strikeouts. Before he began throwing the knuckleball in May, he started the season with Triple-A Norfolk. He would later pitch in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League and with Double-A Bowie before ending his year with Single-A Frederick of the Carolina League.

It was certainly a challenge to start to make that conversion after the season had started.

“The thing that was crazy to me was I felt like the expectation was I’m going to pick it up and be in the big leagues by the end of the year. I don’t know if that is the case or not, but that’s the way it felt,” Clark said.

“I had messed around in the past with a knuckler, but had never thrown the pitch in a game, in high school or ever. It was cool they thought I could do it, but there were things I had to learn and still have to learn that only comes with experience.

“I feel better, I feel more comfortable but we’ll know more when I see hitters. This will be the first time I go through spring training as a knuckleballer.”

Clark said his first goal with the pitch is be able to consistently find the plate. He points out that R.A. Dickey used the knuckler as an out pitch for several seasons before converting full-time to the pitch.

“Command may not be the right word, but I want to be able to control it,” Clark said. “If I can throw it for a strike and get a feel for what it could do, that is the goal. Once you have that, other stuff, like the numbers, will fall into place. If I can’t feel like I can throw it for a strike seven out of 10 times, I don’t know how I’m going to have success.”

Clark hasn’t talked with club officials yet about what level he’ll pitch at in 2014. Spring training will likely determine that.

“I think it will be what I show them I’m able to do,” Clark said. “If I had a horrible spring training, I don’t think they’d put me at Double-A. I have to earn my way to where I’m going to go. I want to earn it.

“I want to get the point where any given day, I can throw it on any pitch. This is exciting, but it’s different than anything I’ve dealt with before because there is so much of an unknown.”

About that first-round pick: Some teams have been reluctant to give up a first-round draft pick in looking to sign a free agent that turned down a qualifying offer. The Orioles reportedly would give up their pick in the right circumstance.

But keep this in mind: The Orioles have the 17th pick in the draft next June. They selected right-hander Hunter Harvey last June with the 22nd overall pick. Now that we’ve seen how highly Harvey has been rated on some prospects lists - and that was after pitching only a handful of pro innings - would you risk giving up a potential talent like that in signing a free agent?

I think I’d consider it, but in the end, I don’t see a player left on the free agent board worth giving up that pick for in addition to the money you spend to get that player. Maybe if the price is really a bargain, but other than that, it’s a no for me this year with what is left.

That is one key reason that pitchers A.J. Burnett and Bronson Arroyo must appeal to the Orioles and other teams. Signing them would not cost a draft pick.

What say you? Is any player left on the board worth giving up that pick for?

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