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Mickey Jannis finding his groove with the knuckleball

Long Island Ducks starting pitcher Mickey Jannis delivers

Long Island Ducks starting pitcher Mickey Jannis delivers a pitch in a game against the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs, Sunday, June 7, 2015 at Bethpage Ballpark. Photo Credit: George A. Faella

When Ducks righthander Mickey Jannis first became intrigued with the knuckleball, he saw it as something to fool around with during summer ball and not a pathway to professional success.

That is until professional success hit a serious roadblock. After being drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2010, Jannis pitched parts of two seasons in rookie and Class A ball. Then he was released, and knowing he needed to make a change to get another professional job, he began to consider throwing the knuckleball.

In 2012, when Jannis was a member of the Lake Erie Crushers, he was inspired by the success of Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey en route to his Cy Young Award-winning season.

Now a Duck, the 27-year-old is 5-2 with a 1.31 ERA. Entering Saturday night's game, he had 56 strikeouts and 23 walks in 751/3 innings.

Jannis took a no-hitter into the eighth inning in a 3-0 win over York on June 2, and only a softly hit ball to shortstop ruined his gem.

Did the knuckleball come back quickly after you decided to start throwing it seriously in the Frontier League?

Playing catch with it is completely different from throwing it in games, so it was a little tough to make that adjustment the first year. It took a lot of trust from myself and my coaches because it's such an unpredictable pitch. It's hard to let somebody go out and throw it who hasn't established themselves as a knuckleball pitcher. It's been a long process . . . But it feels good coming out of my hand right now. I'm throwing it well. It's still unpredictable. It changes from batter to batter and pitch to pitch. It's such a feel pitch. I might have it one inning and the next inning I may not.

You haven't allowed more than one earned run since May 10. What's the last month and a half been like for you?

I'm just trying to take it one batter at a time. It just depends on the situation and just making my pitches when I need to. I've been pretty lucky, too. My defense has been unbelievable the whole season. You can't do it by yourself. I think our defense is the best in the league right now. That's been a big help. Knowing that you can challenge a hitter, no matter who it is, and your defense is going to make the play behind you makes a huge difference.

What are you doing well on the mound?

I'm just getting ahead of hitters and mixing my speed on my knuckleball really effectively and mixing my other pitches in when I need to. It's a combination of a lot of things, too many to name. It's just been a good run and hopefully we can keep it going.

Next up: Ducks at Sugar Land, Sunday, 6:05 p.m.

Last night's loss to Sugar Land dropped the Ducks five games behind the Somerset Patriots with eight to play in the first half. The first-half champion earns an automatic playoff spot.

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