TORONTO - R.A. Dickey learned many things in his first season with the Blue Jays, not the least of which is managing his own expectations, those of an organization which acquired him by trading promising youth and those of a fan base aware of that price and starved for a winner.
"I won a Cy Young last year and I did not live up to what that year was last year," said Dickey. "So I have to do a good job, myself, of not putting so much pressure on myself. It's going to come. There was a big trade made, a lot of pieces were given up for me so there's an expectation that comes with that. I take that very seriously. I have to do a good job of making sure that I hold it in the right perspective as well."
Dickey finishes 2013 with a 14-13 record, the second-highest win total of his career. His ERA of 4.21 is the highest since he became a full-time starting pitcher three years ago. Dickey pitched 224 2/3 innings, which will lead the club. He struck out 7.1 hitters per nine innings and walked 2.8 hitters per nine innings - averages that regressed from his Cy Young season with the Mets.
"A snapshot of the season, for me, is a tad above average," said Dickey. "I ended up with but 14 wins and if that's a down year then I'll take a down year from time to time. I have a lot to improve upon and feel like I've done a pretty good job of growing over the season as far as trying to identify what can make me better for next season. I've got a lot of stuff written down. (Pitching coach) Pete (Walker) and I have got a list going and I'm very optimistic about next year."
Despite a comfortably seasonal night in Toronto, the roof was closed for Dickey's final start. The knuckleballer denied having direct involvement in the decision to have the game played indoors but it's been clear, for a while, that both Dickey and the club are looking for ways to maximize the conditions for his special pitch.
Make no mistake, it's not an excuse, the knuckleball is affected by climate – specifically humidity – and wind.
Dickey's Rogers Centre splits look like this: Roof closed – 5-2, 3.58 ERA, seven home runs allowed; Roof open – 3-4, 5.73 ERA, 17 home runs allowed. Bottom line, Dickey gives up more than two extra runs per start when the roof is rolled back.
Each of Dickey's 10 starts at home between May 4 and August 11 was outdoors.
"In truth, I need to be to pitch well no matter what the roof is," said Dickey. "It at least gives us a good sample size to be able to see, if we do have a day that's marginal, we can make a decision based on what the statistics show us."
Dickey faced his share of adversity this season. He pitched through neck and upper back pain for most of the first three months of the season, an injury he described on Saturday as a torn rhomboid muscle. While he pitched through the discomfort, he was robbed of the ability to throw his high-velocity knuckleball.
Complicating matters further, Dickey was tipping his fastball early in the season, which allowed hitters to sit on the pitch. After identifying the problem on video, he quickly corrected it.
Dickey is pleased with the decrease in his walks total from about mid-June. He hasn't issued more than three free passes in a game since June 15. He blames the neck injury, in part, for an early season lack of control.
"I remember having a conversation with you guys earlier in the year that it was a struggle to take speed off of it like I needed to to be able to pitch and throw strikes like I'm used to throwing," he said.
Dickey credits Josh Thole, who was recalled from Buffalo after Henry Blanco was designated for assignment in mid-June, with being a calming influence on him.
Cynical and jaded Blue Jays fans, who view the season through a lens of frustration and disappointment, may not want to hear Dickey preach hope for 2014 so soon.
The scars of this year haven't healed yet. But Dickey is resolute in his confidence, both in himself and in the team, as he looks ahead to spring training in February.
"I've learned an awful lot having come from the NL East to the AL East and been able to identify the guys that I need to mix in my sequences a little better and work on that on the side," said Dickey. "I've paid attention to who hits me well and who doesn't and what I need to do from a pitching standpoint to give myself the best chance to win.
"We've played a year together," Dickey said of the team. "That's a big deal, guys. Like having all these pieces come into the fold at once that haven't played together. We've played together for a year now. Now we know what to expect out of each other. We know how to challenge each other. We know a little bit more about how to hold each other accountable. All of those things are very important on a team as you well know."