Minor League Notebook / Steve Lowery : For Buckles, It’s Pitcher Perfect : Angel Prospect Has ‘Em Knucking Under to ‘Buckle-Ball’


Things have been going so well for Gary Buckels this season that it figured he would experience some kind of slump along the way. It happened last week. That’s right, Buckels did something he hadn’t done most of the season. He walked a batter. That makes two this year.

Buckels, one of the Angels’ top pitching prospects who plays with the club’s double-A team in Midland, Tex., has appeared in 19 games as a reliever this year and has yet to allow an earned run in 22 1/3 innings. He has struck out 22 and has a 2-0 record with nine saves.

Control is one of his biggest strengths. Buckels spent the 1988 season with the Angels’ Class-A Quad Cities team, where he struck out 109 while walking just 29 in 79 2/3 innings.


“For a reliever, it’s especially important that you don’t put guys on base,” Buckels said. “You’re usually coming in in tight situations. You’ve got to get an out.”

Buckels came into so many tight situations last year that he actually won 14 games in just 79 innings as a reliever. That works out to a victory in just under every six innings he pitched last year.

“It seemed every time I pitched, the team would rally and get a couple runs,” he said.

One of his more effective tools is the quasi-knuckleball Buckels developed. The one he has dubbed the Buckel-ball.

Buckels said the pitch comes at a batter appearing to be a fastball, but takes a fierce drop once it reaches the plate.

“With a curve or breaking pitch, a hitter can kind of tell that the pitch is going to break,” Buckels said. “But mine just comes straight at them.”

Buckels, who said he used the pitch “about 95% of the time last year,” grips the ball as a knuckleball, digging his fingernails into the ball, but he doesn’t use the seams. The pitch came about as he was trying to emulate a friend’s knuckleball.


“I kept trying to copy his, but I couldn’t get it right and I was getting pretty mad,” Buckels said. “But then I realized that the way I was throwing the pitch, mine was dropping and his wasn’t.”

Chris Calvert is enjoying one of his best seasons in the minors with the Philadelphia Phillies’ double-A team at Reading, Pa. Calvert, a reserve catcher and part-time designated hitter, is hitting .400 with 18 hits in 45 at-bats.

Of course, after last season, not to mention off-season, there was hardly anywhere for him to go but up.

Calvert signed with the Minnesota Twins organization out of Chapman College in 1985 and played three seasons in that organization, enjoying his best season in 1987 when he hit .290 for the Class-A Visalia Twins and was named to the California League all-star team.

But Calvert was traded in 1988 to the Phillies and placed in Reading. He hit .180 and had what he generously calls “the worst possible season I could have.”

Calvert believes he was pushing a bit too hard to impress his new employers.

“The harder I tried, the worse it got,” he said.

And it got even worse when Calvert came down with a virus that shot his temperature up to 104 degrees, gave him severe chest pains and left his left arm numb.


“My mom had had a heart attack a couple years ago and she was pretty concerned,” Calvert said.

It turned out Calvert didn’t have a heart attack, but the virus did do some damage to the sack around his heart. Enough damage that his doctor told Calvert to stay away from baseball for most of the off-season.

“He didn’t give me the OK until about a week before spring training,” he said.

Calvert said the bad statistics of 1988 and the illness helped him put baseball in perspective.

“I’m just going to have fun and relax,” he said. “In baseball, you never know what’s going to happen, so why press?”

The Buice-man cometh, again?

A week ago, Monday, DeWayne Buice, former Angel relief pitcher, claimed he had been called up by the Toronto Blue Jays. Buice, who saved 17 games for the Angels in 1987, was pitching for the triple-A Syracuse Chiefs.

His claim caught a few club officials off guard.

“DeWayne Buice? Who’s he?” said one Blue Jays official, who asked to remain anonymous. “We just fired our manager (Jimy Williams) and that’s enough for one day.”


But Buice insisted.

“I’m going there tomorrow (Tuesday),” he said.

Said director of public relations Howard Starkman: “He must be dreaming. I haven’t heard anything about this.”

Buice probably hopes he never wakes up. Tuesday, he was called up by the Blue Jays. Buice has pitched five shutout innings so far, allowing just one hit.

Darren Nelson, formerly of Chapman College, was released by the Angels’ Class-A team at Quad Cities, Iowa. Nelson was hitting .197 as of last week. Quad Cities officials said Nelson has been told to report in June to the Angels rookie club in Bend, Ore.

Dave Cochrane, former Troy High School standout, was called up by the Seattle Mariners last week. In his first week, Cochrane is hitting .238, going five for 21, with a triple, a home run, an RBI and five runs scored.