The Great Knuckleball Experiment comes to Cheney

Monday was a wacky day to be at Cheney Stadium. Those in attendance were in for a treat as they got to see Scott Maynard, a lifelong catcher, head out to the mound for his first professional start. InsidethePark's Sean Duade talked to the 26-year-old catcher-turned-knuckleballer after game to get his reaction.

Monday was a memorable day for Scott Maynard.

The last time Maynard suited up as a member of the Tacoma Rainiers he was an 18-year-old catcher fresh out of high school and guys like Arquimedez Pozo, Desi Relaford and Chris Widger were on the roster. Now 26, and in his ninth year in the Mariners farm system, Maynard is back in a Rainier uniform... as a starting pitcher!

Maynard took the mound Monday for the first start of his professional career, coming up from extended spring training as a spot-starter to pitch in the opener of a four-game series with the Iowa Cubs.

Fighting off nerves, he gave up seven hits over five innings, struck out two, walked two and gave up five earned runs in route to a 6-3 defeat, but but both he and manager Dan Rohn came away encouraged nonetheless.

"I thought he pitched a damned good ball-game," Rohn said. "He had good stuff. If I take him out after the fourth inning, it's a 2-1 game, and we're still in it."

The good stuff Rohn eluded to was the movement on Maynard's knee-buckling knuckleball. And if it sounds like Rohn is letting his pitcher off the hook for the loss, he's not. He's just putting the start into perspective.

Over a nine year minor league career, Maynard had logged just 5.2 innings pitched before Monday, all of them in Single-A ball. He appeared in five games over three years, the last outing coming with the Wisconsin Timber-Rattlers in 1999.

Maynard, as mentioned before, has primarily spent his career working behind the plate as a catcher (total games caught, 459). In fact the last six years of his career he has been splitting time with current Rainiers catcher Jim Horner, who so happened to be catching his new teammate Monday.

The night happened to be a first for Horner as well - he had never caught a knuckleballer before.

"He threw some nasty stuff," Horner said, shaking his head in the locker room after the game. "He made [Trenidad] Hubbard's knees buckle, and he's been a pro for about 15 years."

Like his manager, Horner also put Maynard's loss in perspective.

"He's learning just like everyone else," he said.

Maynard is, in fact, still actively learning the art of the knuckleball. Up until Sunday he had been spending his time in Peoria, Ariz. in Mariners extended spring training learning specifically how to throw the pitch.

"I've only been throwing the knuckle ball for about three weeks now," Maynard said, adding that he's known how to throw one for the past 10 years or so, just never off of a mound. "Tonight was the first time throwing [the knuckleball] in an appearance. Before tonight I had been a conventional fastball and changeup pitcher."

Though Maynard might not be the second coming of Tim Wakefield—the knuckleballer virtuoso—the idea of having even an adequate knuckleballer in the rotation to help eat up innings is an appealing one.

And while the future of Maynard in the Rainiers' rotation is unclear, Monday night just might have been the start of something special for Maynard's pitching career - wherever it may be.

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