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The Strike Zone

Tigers infielder Danny Worth will knuckleball his way into your heart

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It's okay if you didn't know who Danny Worth was before this week. After all, the 28-year-old utility infielder's biggest claim to fame in his career was that he was a second-round draft pick of the Tigers in 2007. Since making his major league debut in 2010, Worth has served as a backup infielder and a bat off the bench for Detroit, spending most of his time shuttling between the big leagues and Triple-A. In the last four days, however, Worth has suddenly risen to prominence — or at least noticeability — thanks to his embrace of America's favorite offbeat pitch: The knuckleball.

In the "Year of the Position Players Pitching," Worth has jumped up to No. 1 in the unofficial hitter-pitcher rankings by turning to the pitch that made Phil Niekro, Hoyt Wilhelm, Tim Wakefield and R.A. Dickey famous. Worth first took the mound back on May 22 against Texas to mop up in the ninth inning of the Tigers' 9-2 loss and unleashed a dancing, fluttering knuckleball that would've made Tom Candiotti proud.

Keep in mind, that's Worth's first time on a major-league mound, and he has the cojones to whip out a knuckleball. And not just any knuckler: Worth got Michael Choice swinging and Leonys Martin looking in a perfect 1-2-3 inning. He even got this swing out of Martin on an absolutely beautiful floater:

http://cdn3.vox-cdn.com/assets/4495965/worth-knuckleball.gif

On Saturday, Worth again took the mound, again in a blowout loss to the Rangers, and didn't fare quite as well, giving up a run on three hits. He also had some slight control issues with the sometimes-temperamental knuckleball, as Rangers infielder Donnie Murphy will attest to:

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But hey, the knuckler tends to fly away for even the best of pitchers. Regardless, Worth became the second position player this season to make two appearances as a pitcher, joining Dodgers backup catcher Drew Butera, who has shown some serious aptitude as a hurler. Then there's former phenom outfielder Jeff Francoeur, who has emerged as an occasional reliever for San Diego's Triple-A affiliate as he tries to fight his way back to the majors.

Amazingly enough, Worth isn't even the first position player to feature a knuckler on the mound this year. Back on April 24, Red Sox first baseman Mike Carp took to the hill against the Yankees in a 13-5 Boston loss and started throwing knucklers all over the plate. And I mean that literally: Carp walked five hitters and threw a wild pitch over a 38-pitch outing that somehow only resulted in one run being scored.

JAFFE: The Position Player Pitching Wish List: Who do you want to see on the mound?

But if you're looking to see some more hot position-player-pitching-knuckleball action, rejoice: Detroit manager Brad Ausmus has already said that he'll look to use Worth as a reliever in blowouts if possible. The team will even have Worth throw bullpen sessions every 10 to 14 days to keep him sharp. The occasional relief appearance may not be enough to induct Worth formally into the Fraternal Order of Knuckleballers, but at the very least, with Dickey as the only pitcher who regularly throws a knuckler, it's nice to see the pitch alive and well, even coming from such an unusual source.

[First GIF via: SB Nation]
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