Reds' young power pitcher threads the needle

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Frank Pastore, who is 6 ft. 2 in. tall and won't be 23 until Aug. 21, is the best pitcher right now on a Cincinnati team that still issues a uniform to Tom Seaver.

If that doesn't tell the nation's baseball fanatics all they need to know about Pastore's credentials, then Casey Stengel didn't add a second and third dimension to the split infinitive. I won't say that Frank is aggressive, exactly, but if the meat platter happened to be at the wrong end of the table, he'd still get his share.

The next time most of you see Pastore, he's probably going to be representing the National League in this year's All-Star Game, which is scheduled for Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Tuesday, July 8.

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"If you've got a power pitcher who throws strikes, and by that I mean a kid who doesn't keep getting behind the hitter, he can win consistently in the big leagues without a lot of experience," said Reds pitching coach Bill Fischer. "What happens is that you force the hitter to swing at your pitch and not his.

"Pastore is one of those guys whose fast ball just rides up and past even the best swingers. There isn't a single gimmick about the way Frank works. He just rears back, rocks, and lets the batter worry about what's coming.

"Of course, most of the time it's the fast ball. But this kid can also get people out with his slider, breaking stuff, or change-up.Like most good pitchers , he throws as much with his body as he does with his arm. Those guys also have a tendency to have longer careers."

However, before we convince you that Mr. Pastore is too mechanically perfect, it should be noted that last year, in his first brief stretch in the National League, all did not go according to plan.

One night early in the season the Los Angeles Dodgers, who have a lot of experienced hitters, took him over the wall for five home runs in a mere 2 1/3 -inning relief appearance. That night Frank had left his curve ball back at the hotel, if indeed he was ever sure he really had one.

Pastore's confidence, before the Dodgers got to him, had been built chiefly in spring training, where the regulars often play no more than three innings and the rookies will swing at anything that moves.

Against the Dodgers, he should have figured something was wrong when Cincinnati catcher Johnny Bench kept calling for fast balls and he insisted on throwing what he thought was a big league curve.

What that outing got Pastore was a trip back to Indianapolis for more polish and a restructured curve ball. Then came seven victories and five complete games in his next 10 starts. The Reds' reaction was to send him a first-class plane ticket back to Cincinnati, where he finished with a 6-7 record which was actually very deceptive.

Through the last two months of the season, Frank had a 5-2 record and a 2.10 earned-run average. His victories included a 7-1 complete game in a crucial test at Houston, and five days later a four-hit shutout over Atlanta that clinched the NL West title.

He's been the big man so far this year, too, fashioning a 7-2 record and a 2. 81 earned-run average over the first two months to help keep the Reds in the thick of the division race once again.

"Anytime you find a power pitcher with the potential of a kid like Pastore, you never try to make any big adjustments that might interfere with what he does naturally," Fischer said. "What you work on are smoothing out the mechanics of his delivery, teaching him the value of control, and showing him how to set up the hitters."

"But you don't just leave him there either," the Reds pitching coach continued. "You also start to improve his curve ball, to the point where it's almost as good as his fast ball and is thrown so the hitter can't tell the difference when it leaves his hand.

"Right now I think Pastore is the best young right-hander in the National League. At his age, and on days when he's got his fast ball and his control, he doesn't need anything else to win. But we want him to learn the thinking side of being a pro, so that eventually he can win with his head as well as his arm."

Pastore is not shy. Opposing hitters who dig in against him can expect to be brushed back. With two out and runners in scoring position, Frank seems to have no trouble reaching back for the power pitch that either results in a strikeout or a routine ground ball to one of his infielders.

Picking Pastore for this year's All-Star Game should be as easy for National League Manager Chuck Tanner and his coaches as the once-automatic selection of someone like Seaver.

Frank vs. American League slugger Reggie Jackson with the All-Star Game on the line, if it should indeed come to that, would probably send network television ratings into orbit!

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