Teammates assured Buxton of his value on defense, and he learned to relax and trust the adjustments he was making at the plate. Buxton eliminated his leg kick and shortened his stride, a technique that worked for his manager, Paul Molitor, in a Hall of Fame career.
“I used to stride,” Molitor said. “Then I got tired of striking out. I went to the no-stride with two strikes, and I got so comfortable with it, that just became the way I hit.”
Molitor made the change in the late 1980s and soon reduced his strikeout rate to one every 11.3 at-bats, from one every 6.9 at-bats. Few players have ever hit as well as Molitor, of course, and Buxton strikes out at a much higher rate. But the same principles apply.
“It’s just a pivot,” Molitor said. “You can still load your front side without picking your foot up. We talked about getting rid of the leg kick this year. It was awkward for him, but I think he understood that you need to make a change, at least in the short term. He might migrate back to that at some point, but with the lack of contact, the swing-and-misses, not being able to cover the outer third of the plate, spinning off the ball — it was just time to try something a little different. And now that he’s gotten the feel down for it, he might end up staying that way for hopefully a long time.”
Buxton has leaned on Molitor to refine another area of his game: stolen bases. Molitor had 504 steals, using intuition to swipe 32 without being caught over a two-year span late in his career. Buxton has been successful on 25 of 26 attempts this season.
“Coming up through the minor leagues, I never really thought about guys having a quick move or being quick to home,” Buxton said. “I just thought I could outrun the baseball all the time — and most of the time I could down there.
“Once I got up here, I thought I got a good jump and I was out by three feet. I was like, ‘Man, I gotta change something, I gotta start picking better times, start learning who slide steps here’ — things like that. It took me a good three years to figure it out, and also to trust myself.
“Last year I got thrown out a couple of times, and I got a little bit on the passive side of base running. That’s not who I am. I like to get out there and run. I took it on myself to ask Molly and the veteran guys to help me out, and whatever works for me, I’ve stuck with it.”
For a player in his first full major league season, Buxton has a veteran’s perspective. He had a clock tattooed on his upper left arm after the birth of his son, Brixton Scott, in 2013. Buxton is not just in a hurry on the bases.
“Never take time for granted,” he said. “You never know when today could be your last day. This game is a kid’s game, so just come out here, have fun, play as hard as you can and leave no regrets.”
Going Deep on the Mound
At the end of a 10-2 victory over Oakland on Sept. 3, the Seattle Mariners summoned a right-hander, Shae Simmons, to make his first appearance with the team. He became the 40th pitcher they had used this season, tying the Mariners with the 2014 Texas Rangers for the major league record.
The Mariners’ list includes six players who have made just one pitching appearance, including catcher Carlos Ruiz, and 17 who have started a game, tying the a franchise record set by the 1977 expansion team for the most starters used in a season.
One Mariners pitcher who has not appeared this season is Drew Smyly, whose absence helps explain why Seattle seems headed for its 16th consecutive season without making the playoffs, the longest current drought in the majors.
The Mariners acquired Smyly from Tampa Bay in a January trade, believing he could build off the first 30-start season of his career. Then they watched from afar as he threw 94 miles per hour at the World Baseball Classic in March, up from his usual velocity of about 90 m.p.h.
Citing the precise cause of a pitcher’s injury is usually impossible, but the aftermath for Smyly has been discouraging. He felt elbow discomfort near the end of March, and then felt tightness after throwing a simulated game in June. In July, Smyly had Tommy John surgery, which will probably keep him out until at least the middle of next season.
Demotion Becomes a Reprieve
The Philadelphia Phillies’ streak of losing seasons began in 2013, when they started Domonic Brown, Ben Revere and John Mayberry Jr. in the outfield on opening day. The next day they claimed another outfielder, Ezequiel Carrera, off waivers from Cleveland.
To clear space, they dropped Ender Inciarte from the roster. The previous winter, the Phillies had taken Inciarte from the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Rule 5 draft. He had never played above Class A, and by rule, the Phillies needed to keep him on their major league roster all season or offer him back to Arizona.
After one day, he was gone — and relieved.
“I knew I was not ready yet,” said Inciarte, now an All-Star center fielder for the Atlanta Braves. “In my heart, when they sent me back to Arizona, I was kind of happy, because I knew I was gonna get the chance to develop more in Double-A, to keep playing more games, and that was the right thing for me.”
Inciarte, then 22, stole 43 bases for Class AA Mobile that season, while…