PALM SPRINGS — He is trying to replace Terry Forster in more ways than one--as both reliever and good humor man--but through most of spring training, DeWayne Buice was doing a better job of getting laughs than getting batters out.
Buice's act is impressions. He does Rev. Jim from the television show "Taxi", Angel coach Bob Clear, Bullwinkle the Moose (but not Moose Stubing)--and a great Maxwell Smart.
Unfortunately for Buice, his Dave Righetti has needed some work. Entering the final week of camp, Buice had appeared in six exhibition games, allowing 14 hits and eight earned runs in 11 innings. His ERA was 6.55 and, despite some eye-catching scouting reports, Buice was getting passed by the competition in a hurry.
Manager Gene Mauch said it several times: "I keep looking to see what other people saw in Buice."
So did Buice.
"It was the truth," Buice said. "I could understand where he was coming from. My father didn't appreciate those comments, but I was supposed to be this highly touted pitcher and I can't throw strikes. And when I do, I can't get people out."
So guess who comes into Monday's game against the San Diego Padres, immediately strikes out the side, pitches two scoreless innings and maybe, just maybe, begins a last-minute bid to qualify for the Angels' opening-day staff?
Would you believe . . . DeWayne Buice.
Buice pitched to seven batters and struck out four in the Angels' 6-0 win. In the seventh inning, he fanned Tony Gwynn, Kevin Mitchell and Steve Garvey. In the eighth, he struck out Marvell Wynne before retiring Garry Templeton and Bruce Bochy on fly outs.
Finally, Mauch saw something he liked.
"I don't ignore a performance like that," Mauch said. "If San Diego was in the American League, he might win Fireman of the Year.
"I want him to try it again and see what happens. Out of the bullpen, you don't want a good one, then a bad one, then a fair one. I want a pretty good idea of what I'm going to get every time."
Buice (pronounced Bice) is 29 years old and has spent a decade in the minor leagues. "This would be my 11th season. I figure I'm on the 15-year plan," he jokes. He previously pitched in the San Francisco and Oakland organizations and was considered a rising prospect with the A's before fracturing his right elbow in both 1982 and 1983.
"I pitched with a broken arm for two weeks in '83," Buice said. "They told me I was going up, so I didn't want to tell anybody."
He signed with the Angels as a free agent after the 1985 season and pitched for Midland and Edmonton last summer, totaling 10 victories and 15 saves. But his winter was what earned Buice an invitation to the Angels' spring camp. He led the Venezuelan Winter League in strikeouts (67 in 60 innings), had 12 saves and was named most valuable player in the Venezuelan championship series.
Then came the Caribbean World Series and by then, spring training was less than two weeks away. Buice took 12 days off, which, he now admits, was a mistake. "It completely messed up my mechanics," he said.
Buice had them straightened out Monday, but did the adjustments come too late?
"I don't know," Mauch said. "I'm not going to deal him out. That'll be a late-developing decision.
"When he pitches like that, I can see what (Angel assistant general manager) Preston Gomez saw in him. But there were a couple other times, on ball four, where I saw him give in."
In the meantime, Buice, the Angels' main funny man, is getting serious about his pitching. The other day, a radio interviewer want him to try out his Maxwell Smart for the airwaves, but Buice politely declined.
"I want to be remembered as a pitcher," he said. 'I've got all the time in the world to be a comedian."
Gary Lucas got some positive news when his arthrogram came back negative.
"There was no evidence of a tear," Angel General Manager Mike Port reported. "There was some inflammation in the muscular area of his shoulder and the test showed that, as with anyone who's pitched six years in the big leagues, there are some degenerative changes in his arm.
"But the doctors say such a change is to be expected. Gary doesn't have the arm of a 20-year-old anymore."
Wednesday, Lucas is expected to begin what Port called "passive exercises"--primarily soft tossing on the sidelines. Mauch said no decision on whether to keep Lucas on the 24-man roster or place him on the disabled list will be made until the weekend.