The National League's youngest pitcher is able to sleep only about an hour the night before he pitches because he keeps thinking about the batters he will face. . . .
An hour before the game, his stomach begins to churn. . . .
But when he takes the mound, Ismael Valdes, who won't be 22 until Aug. 21, becomes one of the coolest and calmest Dodgers. . . .
The 6-foot-3, 207-pound right-hander from Victoria, Tamaulipas, Mexico, has the lowest earned-run average of any Dodger starter (2.68), an excellent strikeout-to-walk ratio (35 to 14 in 43 2/3 innings) and high praise from friend and foe. . . .
"He does some of the same things Juan Marichal did as a youngster," Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda said. "He has great control and command of three pitches--the fastball, the curve and the changeup. He's in terrific physical condition too. He threw as hard in the ninth inning the other night as he did in the first inning." . . .
"He reminds me of Doug Drabek," said Dodger catcher Tom Prince, a former Pittsburgh Pirate teammate of Drabek's. . . .
"I absolutely love Valdes," Atlanta Brave Manager Bobby Cox said. "I think he'll be one of the best pitchers in the league if he's not already." . . .
First, though, Valdes wants to become a winning pitcher. . . .
He is 1-2 going into tonight's assignment against the Montreal Expos at Dodger Stadium. . . .
The Dodgers haven't scored many runs for him, and, characteristically, he pins some of the blame on himself. . . .
"I've got to improve my bunting," he says. . . .
That reminds me of the night Fernando Valenzuela pitched a gem during his remarkable rookie year, but didn't seem thrilled afterward. . . .
"I need to improve my running," he said. . . .
At the time, Valenzuela needed the help of translator Jaime Jarrin during interviews. In contrast, Valdes has become comfortable with English. . . .
Valdes was only 8 when Fernandomania struck Southern California but says he began to follow the Dodgers closely a couple of years later. His idols were Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser. Mike Brito, who also signed Valenzuela, didn't have much trouble convincing Valdes to sign with his favorite team. . . .
Valdes is one of eight children of a rancher who also owns a business in Victoria, which isn't far from Monterrey. He quit school at 16 to concentrate on baseball but is studying in the off-season for his high school diploma and wants to attend college eventually. . . .
He is popular with his teammates, particularly Hideo Nomo. . . .
Valdes from Mexico and Nomo from Japan have been spotted in the dugout during recent games in the midst of animated conversations. . . .
"They must be speaking pitchin' English," Vin Scully said. . . .
The Angels are off to a fast start, but so are former Angels Dante Bichette of Colorado, Mark McLemore of Texas, Gary Gaetti of Kansas City and Devon White of Toronto. . . .
No. 1 draft choice Darin Erstad, a Jamestown, N.D., native, who played baseball and football at Nebraska, wouldn't be the first Angel outfielder from North Dakota. . . .
In 1961, rookie Ken Hunt from Grand Forks, N.D., hit 25 home runs for the first Angel team. The same season, another North Dakotan, Roger Maris, hit 61 for the New York Yankees. . . .
Former USC star sprinter Payton Jordan will be inducted into the Stanford Hall of Fame on June 14. Jordan coached the Stanford team for 22 years. He also was coach of the 1968 U.S. Olympic team that won 24 medals, half gold. . . .
Wonder when USC is going to vote Jordan, who captained the 1939 NCAA championship team and was pictured on the cover of Life Magazine, into its Hall of Fame? . . .
How good a golfer was former L.A. television anchorperson John Schubeck? In the first round of the British Amateur in 1976, he lost to Ian Woosnam, 1 up. . . .
When jockey James Corral marries Laurie Wetzler in the Hollywood Park winner's circle on July 1, his father, L.A. Superior Court judge Jaime Corral, will perform the ceremony. . . .
Jerry Bailey, who has been aboard winners of all three Triple Crown races and the Breeders' Cup Classic, says Cigar is the best horse he has ever ridden. . . .
Cyrano Storme won the Jack Disney Stakes last week at Hollywood Park by a long nose. . . .
Sign at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit during the Red Wing-Chicago Blackhawk series: "We Have the Coffey, We Want the Cup."