PORTLAND — Charlie Haeger took the mound at Hadlock Field, looked in to catcher Mark Wagner and delivered his wobbly pitch – at 66 mph.
The knuckleball is back in Portland.
Not since Charlie Zink danced his pitches for the Sea Dogs from 2003 to 2007 have Hadlock fans watched a true knuckleball thrower.
Haeger, 27, signed as a free agent by the Boston Red Sox last Saturday, made his Sea Dogs debut Friday night and picked up the victory as the Sea Dogs beat the Altoona Curve 6-2 in a game shortened to six innings because of rain.
“I felt good, in command of the game,” said Haeger, who has pitched for three major league teams. “And it’s nice when the team gives you a cushion.”
Will Middlebrooks swatted a two-run double, Wagner added a solo home run and an RBI double, and Chih-Hsien Chiang (14-game hitting streak) and Tim Federowicz (2 for 3) each had an RBI.
Haeger was a 25th-round draft pick by the Chicago White Sox in 2001. He originally was a standard fastball pitcher but, like a lot of knuckleball pitchers, he eventually turned to the knuckler when a pitching coach noticed him throwing it for fun.
Haeger reached the majors with Chicago in 2006, and since then has been with the San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers.
Haeger started last season in the Dodgers’ rotation. He struck out 12 in his first start, but was designated for assignment in June with an 8.40 ERA.
He had minor back surgery prior to this season and pitched for Seattle’s Triple-A team in Tacoma. The Mariners recently released him after he compiled a 7.74 ERA, and the Red Sox scooped him up.
“Never found a rhythm (in Tacoma), with the exception of my last start (a four-hitter),” Haeger said. “The Red Sox and I have had talks over the years. They were the first to throw their name in the hat.”
On Friday, Haeger mixed his knuckler with an occasional 80-mph fastball, holding the Curve to two runs on six hits. He walked one and struck out four.
Portland got to Altoona starter Michael Colla (4-8) for two runs in the first, keyed by Middlebrooks’ double.
Wagner hit his drive over the left-field wall in the fourth inning for a 3-0 lead.
Haeger gave up three straight hits with two outs in the fifth for Altoona’s first run, but Portland came back with three in the bottom of the inning.
Andrew Lambo took Haeger deep in the sixth to complete the scoring.
Junichi Tazawa was warming up to begin the seventh when the rain picked up and the tarp went on the field.
NOTES: Chiang leads the Eastern League with a .339 batting average and 75 RBI. … Jeremy Hazelbaker was 1 for 2 in stolen-base attempts, giving him 19 steals since his promotion on May 21. … The annual Sea Dogs Picnic in the Park is today, beginning at 11:30 a.m. Admission is $15.
Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at: