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IronPigs’ new pitcher happy he worked his way through many dark Knights

Blaine Knight leaned on his wife during challenging times in 2021 and 2023. (Photo courtesy of the Knight family)
Blaine Knight leaned on his wife during challenging times in 2021 and 2023. (Photo courtesy of the Knight family)
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Blaine Knight was in the worst place any professional player could be during the baseball season: home.

The pitcher was released by the Orioles on March 26, 2023, then waited for phone calls from other organizations that never came.

The Arkansas native was coming off a 2022 season with Triple-A Norfolk when he was 4-4 with a 7.38 ERA and was asked in midseason to completely revamp his delivery mechanics.

“It’s hard to keep jobs when you’re not getting outs and not throwing strikes,” Knight said.

Knight was back home in Little Rock, Ark., last spring with an increasingly ominous thought that his professional career was over.

But one of many conversations with wife Rachel put Knight back on track. He passed on independent ball and latched on to a group of trusted baseball people to help him get back to the form he showed when he 14-0 with a 2.80 ERA in 2018, when he helped the University of Arkansas get within one strike of winning the College World Series.

It took months to regain the mechanics and mindset.

There were several tryouts with MLB teams this spring followed by the same response: “We like your stuff, but don’t have any openings.”

Finally, in May, Knight went to Clearwater to throw for the Phillies brass. A meeting and a job offer followed.

The 6-foot-3, 165-pounder took the mound in a game Friday for the first time in 622 days. The IronPigs reliever retired the first six batters he faced before tiring in his third inning. The right-hander threw 53 pitches, most since July 5, 2022.

“With the new [Collective Bargaining Agreement] in the minor leagues,” Knight said, “everything is different than when I was pitching in 2022. It cut down jobs.

“I get it. The hard part was hearing that, ‘Everything looks great. We like what you’re doing but the answer is no.’ It was hard to deal with that every time, but it worked out.”

Knight has baseball in his blood. Great grandfather Lloyd Heightman played professionally for the Pensacola Flyers. His dad, Blake, played at Southern Arkansas.

He has enjoyed a lot of personal and team success since high school, when he won an Arkansas state title as a junior at Bryant High. His junior year at the University of Arkansas was a memorable one that included a win in Game 1 of the best-of-three CWS against Adley Rutschman and Oregon State.

He did that after passing on being the Rangers’ 29th-round selection after his sophomore season. The Orioles came calling in June 2018, giving him a more than $1 million signing bonus as their third-round pick.

Knight reached Triple-A in 2021 after only 42 professional outings.

After Knight’s last start of 2022 on July 2, the Orioles proposed a plan to scrap his existing delivery. He obliged but the results did not come. He had an 8.74 ERA and .347 batting average against in his last 20 games of that season.

“I dropped my slot to complete sidearm,” Knight said, “but the consistency wasn’t there. I was a strike thrower in college. With Baltimore, I got away from that. I tried to punch guys out only. I lost a lot of command and feel doing that. It was a bad recipe.”

Knight returned to his college mechanics and repertoire, a low three-quarter arm slot with a four-seam fastball, curve, slider and changeup. But not before a conversation with his wife, who encouraged him continuing to chase his dream.

The 27-year-old spent weekdays taking care of his son, William, while his wife worked. He filled the rest of his time giving pitching lessons and working to regain the mechanics that made him a pro prospect.

There were many helping hands, including former Arkansas and current Georgia pitching coach Wes Johnson, fellow University of Arkansas product D.J. Baxendale and former minor league teammate and current Washington Nationals pitcher Hunter Harvey.

“The hardest part going back and rebuilding was coming up from a lower slot,” Knight said. “Everything was different, the posture, slot, mechanics. It clicked pretty quickly but there was some doubt for a while.

“For a year and a half, there was interest from nobody. It felt like I was kicking a dead horse. I was wondering, “Am I doing this for no reason?’ If not for my family and those guys being supportive, I would have hung it up.”

Knight’s wife has gone above and beyond throughout their relationship. The two met in college. Rachel Knight was a catcher on Arkansas’ softball team.

She was his bullpen catcher during the pandemic when Knight was among thousands of minor leaguers without summer baseball.

Last year, she served as his psychologist, confidant and more.

“She played a huge role in all of it,” Knight said. “We didn’t have a steady income, so she made sacrifices for me to train and travel. She took on a huge load. When I was trying to get out of the lane, was about over [pro baseball] she kept me in the lane, told me to stay with it as long as I could. I’m glad I listened to her.

“It’s a really big opportunity for me now. I’m just going to go out to enjoy pitching and not play GM. I felt like I was pushing on a door that wasn’t going to open. I put a lot of stress on myself. It’s hard to pitch like that. Now I’m happy to be back.”

Sunday recap

RHP Mick Abel’s struggles continued against visiting Buffalo. He allowed three earned runs on six hits and three walks in four innings of Lehigh Valley’s 6-4 loss. He threw only 34 of 65 pitches for strikes to drop to 0-6 with a 6.23 ERA and 1.79 WHIP in his last eight starts.

RHP Yunior Marte (shoulder) allowed at least one earned run for a fifth consecutive rehab outing with Lehigh Valley. He gave up one run on one hit and three walks in 1 1/3 innings. He struck out three and threw only 19 of 39 pitches for strikes.

The Phillies sent C Rafael Marchán back to Triple-A after the team’s loss Sunday to the Mets in London.

Up next

After an off day Monday, Lehigh Valley (27-34) starts a 6-game series at second-place Syracuse (37-24) at 6:05 p.m. The IronPigs lost five of six at home to the second-place Mets early May.

Morning 첥Ƶ reporter Tom Housenick can be reached at 610-820-6651 or at thousenick@mcall.com

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