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That honor goes to manager Jim Lefebvre, who until the beginning of June played Buhner, a strapping rightfielder, sparingly because of Buhner's tendency to strike out. As of Sunday he had gone down on strikes 96 times. But since being inserted into the lineup on a regular basis, the 27-year-old Buhner has turned into one of the league's power sources.
Seattle batting coach Gene Clines got Buhner, who tended to crouch at the plate, to take a more upright stance. Now, instead of popping up high fastballs with an uppercut swing, he takes a more level stroke, and that means more line drives. Clines also has fixed the hitch in Buhner's swing and gotten him not to swing so hard. With his strength, Buhner doesn't need to swing hard to generate power.
Buhner began his career with the Yankees, who traded him in 1988 to Seattle for first baseman Ken Phelps. Phelps didn't do much for New York and now is out of baseball. "I believe in myself now," says Buhner. "I put too much pressure on myself when I was in a platoon situation. I knew I had to have a good game to be in there tomorrow. Now, everything is very positive. When the season starts, you might as well pencil in 150 strikeouts for me. But I'm not going to worry about it."
For most of the season, the best lefthander in the American League hasn't been Chuck Finley, Jimmy Key, Greg Swindell or even Mark Langston. It has been Jim Abbott of the Angels. In April, Abbott was 0-4 and almost out of the rotation. But he started pitching like a power pitcher again and began winning. As of Sunday, Abbott had gone 13-4 with a 2.63 ERA since May 5, and he had allowed no more than three runs in 15 of his 22 starts over that span. In 16 of those starts he pitched into the seventh inning....
Braves rookie reliever Mark Wohlers was clocked at 99 mph on Aug. 21 against the Reds. Rob Dibble was clocked at 97 mph. Wohlers broke the bat of the three hitters he retired....
An American League scout recently watched Seattle's Ken Griffey Jr. jog to second base on a double that Griffey thought was going to be a homer. "For every great play I've seen him make, I've seen one where he hasn't hustled or made a dumb play," says the scout....
Phillie outfielder Wes Chamberlain is making a late bid for National League Rookie of the Year. He had nine homers since being recalled in June. All nine came with runners on base. Detroit's Cecil Fielder never hit more than two consecutive homers with runners on base last season, when he had 51....
The Rangers, on pace to become the first team in history to lead its league in giving up unintentional walks for six consecutive years, have canceled the mandatory throwing of footballs by pitchers before games. That added to the speculation that pitching coach Tom House's job is in jeopardy. The football drill, instituted by House when he joined the team in 1985, is praised by some, scoffed at by others. Former Texas pitcher Charlie Hough was once asked if throwing footballs helps a pitcher's mechanics. "I don't know," he said, "but we lead the league in third-down conversions."
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