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Buehrle still confused over balk rule

Ozzie Guillen thought the problem between Joe West and the White Sox was personal. AP Photo/Mark Duncan

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It's spring training, so if you were going to do something like drastically change your pickoff move, this would be the perfect time to do it.

The problem is that Mark Buehrle doesn't know what to do.

In one sense, he feels that his highly deceptive pickoff move to first base is only an issue with umpire Joe West and his crew, so he will continue to use it, even though West's crew called four of his five balks on him last year. West called two in one game and Angel Hernandez called two in another.

On the other hand, Buehrle is worried that umpires have been told this offseason that West's interpretation of the balk rule is one that will become standard around the league.

So will Buehrle change his move this season?

"I don't plan on it," Buehrle said. "We'll find out how the season starts, but I'm going to keep doing what I've been doing my whole career. Hopefully I'll still go with it. I might have to adjust it at the beginning of the year if they had talks [over the offseason] and start calling balks on me, but as of right now I'm not going in with the intentions of trying to change something."

Buehrle has other pickoff moves where he throws over to first base lightly just to keep the runner honest. But it's his highly deceptive move that has made him one of the best pitchers in baseball at holding on runners.

The question now becomes: How deceptive is too deceptive?

"We had that umpires' meeting the other day and I was talking to Steve Palermo," Buehrle said. "I told him pretty much that ‘Hey, I'm screwed if they're going to start calling that on me because that's a big part of my game, holding baserunners and trying to pick guys off.' If I can't do my good move over there, not a mock move or a smart-[aleck] move, but have to use not really that good of a move, then that's really going to mess with me."

Palermo wasn't able to give Buehrle any straight answers on what to expect this season.

"I was trying to figure out what he saw and what he thought I was doing wrong," Buehrle said. "I guess in the rule book, you can't deceive the baserunner. That's what the pickoff move is. I'm like, ‘That's what you're supposed to do. You're supposed to deceive the runner in order to pick him off.' Otherwise I'd say ‘Hey, I'm going to pick you off right now.' That's the part that didn't make sense to me but that's what it is."

What has appeared to be Buehrle's problem, when it comes to West and his crew calling balks, is that he steps closer to home plate than to first base when he makes his pickoff move. It's commonly called the 45-degree rule. Except Buehrle found it interesting that the 45-degree rule really doesn't exist.

"[Palermo] said that was something a coach in Little League started and it has just carried on for years," Buehrle said. "He said the way you're deceiving them is that you're trying to go home instead of going to first. I said, ‘I'm still laying it on that 45-degree line, I'm still finishing that way.' He said that there really is no 45-degree line. It's really the umpire's decision on it."

So when he once thought he knew what the balk rule was, Buehrle said he doesn't know what to think now.

"That's why I said, I'm going to keep doing what I do and stay with the same move and see what happens," he said.

It would seem that these games in Arizona might give Buehrle a clue as to whether or not umpires will be stricter with the balk rule this season, but he doesn't know if he can use that as a strong indicator.

About halfway through his start on Opening Day, Buehrle figures he will know if umpires have been told to tighten up their interpretation of the balk rule. Or maybe it will just be West and crew will continue to be stricter with the rule.

"I'm not saying he has something out for me but he might really believe that's a balk; it could be," Buehrle said. "Maybe he and Angel are right and the rest of the 60 guys are wrong, I don't know. I don't think he's going to not call it, or call it different [in order to make a point]. I think he's going to see the way it is and he's going think what he thinks it is and if he thinks it's a balk he's going to call it.

"I think I have a good move and I also have a throw-over-just-to-throw-over move. Not a smart-[aleck] move but sometimes I just pick up and throw over and sometimes I use my good move for certain situations. I don't think every time I throw over there he's going to call it. If I use my good move and he thinks it's a balk then I'm sure he's going to call it."

The regular season is just over three weeks away and Buehrle simply doesn't know what to think. He will go to Plan B if he has to, but it won't make life easy on him or his catcher.