The more bats Dallas Buck can avoid, the better chance he has at avoiding the surgeon's knife.
Pitching with an elbow ligament that is 45 percent torn, and has been for more than a year, the Visalia pitcher made his first professional start special in Friday night's 4-1 victory over the Modesto Nuts.
Buck looked every bit like a fresh-armed 23-year-old. He had 11 strikeouts, allowing three hits and an unearned run over six innings in front of 2,845 at John Thurman Field.
"I've told the Diamondbacks that until I'm hurting or I hit a brick wall and can't win ballgames anymore, I'm not getting surgery just to get some more velocity," Buck said.
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"I know I can get people out whether I'm throwing 85 or 95. I know I can pitch. That's what I've told everybody before the draft. It might not look as good on paper, but the results haven't varied any."
Buck got the first six outs via strikes en route to what he said was his highest strikeout total in any game since high school, making this a conspicuous pro debut.
The last time Buck took the mound in a meaningful game, he was a starter called into emergency relief last spring to secure the final outs of Oregon State's College World Series title.
He spent three seasons as a Beaver, including two as a teammate of Beyer High graduates Chris Campos and Danny Anderson.
But even while being named the Pac-10 pitcher of the year as a sophomore, there was a question of whether Buck's elbow would require surgery — probably a Tommy John procedure that would cost him at least a year of his young career.
The surgery has yet to be scheduled, even as Buck has made the transformation from power to finesse pitcher, with great, late movement on his slider and curveball.
"I have changed the way I pitch," Buck said. "I think the stuff I'm throwing now was always there, but I didn't use it because I had the velocity. I used to get guys out throwing 93-94, but in reality I've never been a big strikeout guy. Today was kind of weird."
But not strange to Nuts manager Jerry Weinstein, who saw Buck throw in college.
"He pitched against us last year when I was at Cal Poly, so I've seen enough of him already," Weinstein said.
The Diamondbacks saw enough in his physical and mental makeup to draft him in the third round of the 2006 draft. Except for an appearance last fall in instructional league, and again in spring training, Buck has stayed off the mound.
Modesto starter Chaz Roe matched zeroes with Buck through four innings, limiting the Oaks to three hits, but Roe would be gone before the end of the fifth.
Two singles, a walk and two hit batsmen were turned into two Visalia runs. The Oaks got two more in the sixth off reliever Darric Merrell before Modesto managed to score.
The Nuts' run was an unearned tally off Buck, with Eric Young Jr. reaching on a two-base throwing error and eventually scoring on Phillip Cuadrado's two-out single to left-center.
That was it, as Modesto was held hitless by two Visalia relievers over the final three innings.
"He was very good," Weinstein said of Buck. "He threw a lot of strikes with a lot of contrast. He was the total package, so it was going to be a difficult night for us tonight."
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