Mickey Jannis hopes knuckleball allows him to stay with Orioles - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Rich Dubroff

Mickey Jannis hopes knuckleball allows him to stay with Orioles

Photo credit: Joy R. Absalon

BALTIMORE—Eleven years after he was drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 44th round, a 33-year-old rookie is preparing for his major league debut.

When Mickey Jannis takes the mound for the Orioles, he’ll be the third-oldest rookie in team history. Only Jay Heard, who was 34 years and 97 days on April 24, 1954, and Koji Uehara, who was 34 years and five days on April 8, 2009, were older.

It’s not just Jannis’ age that sets him apart. It’s his specialty, the knuckleball, and the hope that he can pitch multiple innings because his primary pitch isn’t as tough on the arm.

“I don’t think I could pitch it into words what it means,” Jannis said about being called up. He found out in a phone call from Norfolk manager Gary Kendall, who told him the Orioles had selected his contract.

“You’re headed to the major leagues, congratulations,” Kendall told him. “It’s a major accomplishment. Best of luck to you up there. Do what you’ve got to do to stay.”

Jannis told his wife, Emily, the rest of his family and a couple of friends. “They were all surprised. A couple of my buddies didn’t believe me. They were like, ‘no way, no way.’ They thought I was messing with them, but I was like, ‘yeah, it’s happening.’ It’s crazy.”

Drafted as a conventional pitcher, Jannis reinvented himself as a knuckleballer during a three-year stint in Independent ball. He pitched for the New York Mets organization and appeared in four Triple-A games before signing with the Orioles before last season.

At Norfolk, Jannis was 0-1 with a 2.92 ERA in seven games.

“Deep down, I always believed I could pitch in the major leagues,” he said. “That’s why I never gave it up. I told my wife, as long as I feel I have a chance to pitch in the major leagues, I want to pursue this dream. She was all for it, backed me up. My parents backed me up.”

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Jannis didn’t pitch in Tuesday night’s game, but got to savor his first day in a big league uniform.

“I was just trying to take it slow and take it all in, look around and try to enjoy the moment,” he said. “It’s really special. It’s something you can’t really put into words.”

Manager Brandon Hyde, who caught in the minor leagues, doesn’t know much about Jannis.

“I have zero experience with knuckleballers,” he said. “I’ve seen R.A. Dickey across the way.”

Jannis throws the knuckleball 80-to-90 percent of the time with an occasional fastball and slider. Wednesday night’s starting catcher Austin Wynns caught him in spring training but not while they were at Norfolk. Pedro Severino wanted the experience of catching him, so Jannis threw to him before Tuesday night’s game.

Hyde laughed when he asked if was confident his catchers could deal with the knuckler. “Sort of,” he said.

There aren’t any other knuckleballers in the majors, and the Orioles haven’t had one since Daniel Boone pitched in four games for them in 1990.

“Deep down, I wanted to give myself that opportunity, knowing that I was one of the few left,” Jannis said. “Especially in this day and age where everything’s about velocity, spin rates and things like that. I’m taking spin off the ball. It got me here.

“It’s not just about being here. It’s about staying here. Until I get out there and pitch and really get on the mound, I think that’s when it will really sink in.”

Lots of players experiment with the knuckleball, but other than the occasional position player called on to pitch, few actually throw one. Jannis is the Orioles’ knuckleball guru.

“Everybody usually comes up to me and asks me how I throw it,” he said. “Some guys want to throw me their knuckleball. They mix in one or two good ones. It’s pretty cool to have everybody come up to me and ask: ‘How do you throw a knuckleball so awesome? I think people don’t see [it] very often. It’s a cool thing to keep [in] baseball.”

Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB

22 Comments

22 Comments

  1. CalsPals

    June 23, 2021 at 6:05 pm

    Best of luck…go O’s…

  2. JustWin8

    June 23, 2021 at 6:09 pm

    Severino can’t catch a fastball right down the middle. How is going to catch a knuckleball ?? Can’t wait to see it.

  3. OrioleMo8

    June 23, 2021 at 6:32 pm

    Boy, I WISH I could WATCH the Orioles on TV; we have DISH and MASN and/or MLB blocks all Orioles and Nationals games. And it really peeves me that they’ve done this ALL season!!

    • Icterus fan

      June 23, 2021 at 6:37 pm

      It’s ridiculous; you’re right. I moved last year and picked up Xfinity, so can now watch O’s games and record ones I can’t watch. It’s so great, because for 20 years prior to that, I was in a total baseball blackout and didn’t watch a game unless I was at a friends house or a pub.
      So this year finally I can watch the O’s.
      Lose.

      • Boog Robinson Robinson

        June 23, 2021 at 7:59 pm

        I would have moved into the pub.

    • CalsPals

      June 23, 2021 at 6:43 pm

      We have Dish in Ohio, get all of the O’s games except when they play the Indians…go figure & go O’s…

    • Icterus fan

      June 23, 2021 at 8:43 pm

      Boog, hindsight is 20/20.
      And my waistline would have been 44!

  4. Birdman

    June 23, 2021 at 7:14 pm

    Incredible perseverance … good luck to Mickey Jannis.

  5. Boog Robinson Robinson

    June 23, 2021 at 8:01 pm

    I’ve been whining to see a knuckler in an O’s hat for the past I can’t remember how many years. It only makes sense. And I won’t see the game tonite. Thank you Mr. Manfred

    No Coke … Pepsi

  6. Orial

    June 23, 2021 at 8:21 pm

    Well they used Valdez well past his expiration point so why not try a knuckleballer? Whatta ya got to lose? Didn’t knuckeballers go out of fashion 20 years ago? Please O’s do something positive to silence this old curmudgeon once and for all. Getting to the point where I can’t even stand myself.

  7. jimcarter

    June 23, 2021 at 8:39 pm

    Same s**t, different day. So much for a reinforcement from Norfolk. The cupboard is bare there also.

  8. Bumble bee

    June 23, 2021 at 9:03 pm

    What an inning the seventh. Rolled my eyes , shaking head, throwing arms up in the air while screaming “wtf”. Sigh. Same old orioles

  9. CalsPals

    June 23, 2021 at 9:11 pm

    Jannis’ knuckleball seems to have way more rotation & lack of “floating” than other knuckleballers I’ve seen…oh well…get Palmer down there….go O’s…

    • DcOsfan

      June 23, 2021 at 9:44 pm

      Mickey we hardly knew you…

    • Boog Robinson Robinson

      June 23, 2021 at 9:51 pm

      Does Elias get credit for developing this guy?

    • CalsPals

      June 24, 2021 at 7:38 am

      Hysterical & exactly right, all or none…go O’s…

  10. dlgruber1

    June 23, 2021 at 10:32 pm

    I’d like to take this opportunity to talk about just what a glaring example the 1st inning and a half was and how it showed the difference between a good club like the Astros, and a bad club like the O’s. In BOTH the 1st and 2nd innings the Astros had 2 outs and no one on base. They proceeded to score 3 runs in the first and another run in the 2nd. Meanwhile, Mullins lead off with a double and was left stranded at 3rd. I know, I know, in a 13-0 game you might think so what, but that’s a prime example of the stark and glaring difference between the two teams. I stated a few days ago I thought the O’s were ready to go on a good streak for about 20-30 games or so. This was not how I envisioned it beginning.

    • CalsPals

      June 24, 2021 at 7:39 am

      DL, maybe they’ll start the run today, we can only hope…go O’s…

  11. Ekim

    June 23, 2021 at 10:47 pm

    Another of the “boy wonder’s” experiments goes down in flames! And he followed another of his reclamation projects, to boot. The situation is beyond being salvageable. There is just no pitching that can be counted on… the starters or the bullpen. Matt Harvey is a joke! Akin hasn’t improved since his arrival and shows no signs that he will. Kremer is learning on the job but his confidence has to be wounded by now. Lopez is the closest to being a true major league pitcher. I close my eyes no matter who comes in from the bullpen knowing that in all probability it’s a hopeless matter… runs will be scored.

    As I posted last night, the wheels seem to be coming off the bus to Camden Yards when it comes to the pitchers at Bowie (and Aberdeen) 40 runs in their last four games! Just saying

  12. Bumble bee

    June 23, 2021 at 11:57 pm

    But they are our team. We have a good young first baseman, dh, center fielder, a capable ss one good pitcher, and a few capable ones. They play hard, make mistakes but so what. This team I don’t think are quitters and we shouldn’t quit on them. Go O’s. Drink the kool aid

    • CalsPals

      June 24, 2021 at 7:48 am

      Agree, they’re our team, just not drinking the kool aid, saw how that turned out in Jonestown…go O’s…

      • Boog Robinson Robinson

        June 24, 2021 at 10:40 am

        I think they were really drinking Coke in Jonestown.

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