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Blue Jays Leave Well Enough--and Barfield--Alone

July 19, 1986|STEVE KRESAL

Nobody around the Toronto Blue Jays seems too concerned about the number of times Jesse Barfield strikes out.

There hasn't been a push to get him to shorten his swing, choke up on his bat or go to right field more.

When you have the kind of offensive numbers the right-handed hitting Barfield had last season--a .289 batting average, 27 home runs and 84 runs batted in--people tend to let you swing . . . and miss.

He did that plenty last season, striking out 143 times. Only Steve Balboni (166) of the Royals struck out more.

Still, there's been no campaign among first-year Manager Jimy Williams or batting coach Cito Gaston for Barfield to change his style.

Said Williams: "When you're a power hitter with the numbers he (Barfield) has, you just have to expect a few more strikeouts than normal."

In fact, the only effort to change Barfield came from Barfield. He decided to shorten his swing against two strikes in the hopes of making a little more contact.

"I can only make suggestions to him," Gaston said. "When a hitter gets two strikes on him, I preach cutting down the swing. Jesse has done that and is finding he has a lot of power even with the shorter swing."

Barfield has lowered his strikeouts so far this season. He has 72 through 91 games.

"I don't worry about the strikeouts," Barfield said. "Although this season my strikeouts are down, I'm just up there trying not to get cheated. Each time I go up to bat, I'm trying to get two good cuts. If I don't, I feel cheated.

"Sometimes I might go fishing after some junk, but I'm also trying to become more selective and to just get better pitches to hit."

Through 91 games, Barfield is hitting .297 with 21 home runs and 65 RBIs. His home run and RBI totals tie him for second in the American League.

His numbers were impressive enough to earn a trip to the All-Star game.

But even there, Barfield and the strikeout were featured as part of a prime-time television event.

Barfield was the third of five consecutive American Leaguers to be struck out by Fernando Valenzuela of the Dodgers, tying the record set by Carl Hubbell in 1934.

Barfield took a fastball on the inside part of the plate for a called third strike that he thought was a little inside as well as low.

"I checked it out with a few people and they told me he (Valenzuela) gets that pitch called a lot in the National League," Barfield said. "I wouldn't like that pitch called for a strike too often during the season. It was a great challenge, though, and a lot of fun. And we won, and that's all that was really important."

The strikeout may be the only chink in the offensive armor of Barfield, but on defense he is regarded as one of the best right fielders in either league.

Last season, he had 22 assists and his arm has earned the kind of respect Dwight Evans of the Boston Red Sox has had the past 10 seasons.

This season, Barfield has 12 assists and has made only two errors.

"All the respect around the league for his arm he has earned," Williams said. "His assist totals speak for themselves. He just does everything well out there."

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