Charlie Haeger received a no-decision on Sunday in the Los Angeles Dodgers 6-5 loss to the Florida Marlins. It wasn’t because he struggled. He pitched six innings, allowed three hits, three earned runs and struck out 12. If you aren’t familiar with Haeger’s work, he is a pitcher who primarily throws knuckleballs. He was signed as a free agent by the Dodgers in January 2009. Last season he struck out 103 batters in 144 2/3 innings for Triple-A Albuquerque and pitched six games for the Dodgers, striking out 15 batters in 19 innings.
But back to Sunday -- it's pretty rare for a pitcher who throws mostly knuckleballs to strike out 12 batters. Striking out 12 batters in six or fewer innings is rare for any Dodger pitcher. According to Baseball-Reference.com, Haeger was just the fourth Dodgers starting pitcher in the last 55 years to strike out at least 12 batters in six or fewer innings. He joins Chad Billingsley in 2008, Darren Dreifort in 2003 and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax, who struck out 12 in six innings in a loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates on July 25, 1963.
But back to those pesky knuckleballers. In examining the highest strikeout totals for some of the game’s most popular knuckleballers, Haeger’s performance on Sunday ranks among the best.
CHARLIE HOUGH – The crafty righty threw until he was 46 years of age. Hough’s career high in strikeouts for a game came in August of 1987 when he sat down 13 Kansas City Royals in a complete-game victory for the Texas Rangers. While Haeger had one fewer strikeout than Hough, he did it in three fewer innings.
PHIL NIEKRO – The Hall of Famer won 318 games in his career and pitched until he was 48 years old. Niekro struck out 13 batters in a game on three occasions, all between 1974 and 1977 (two alone in 1977). Twice he had to pitch nine full innings to get to 13 and the other time he went eight innings.
TOM CANDIOTTI – He didn’t start throwing a knuckleball on a regular basis until 1985. The next year, he recorded 12 strikeouts in a complete-game win over the Twins. In 1991, Candiotti struck out 12 batters in seven innings for the Blue Jays against the Tigers.
TIM WAKEFIELD – The 2010 season is Wakefield’s 18th in the majors. In 563 career games (422 starts), the most he has struck out in a game is 12 batters. That came on September 11, 2005 when he sat down 12 in a complete-game loss to the Yankees.
Is Haeger’s performance more impressive because he was able to sit down so many batters in so little time? When compared to some of the greats who threw the knuckler for many years, the answer appears to be yes.