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Astacio Can Get Just Desserts

Baseball: Despite saying he was 'banished' in trade, he has been Rockies' best starter, and he could hurt old teammates tonight.

September 19, 1997|STEVE SPRINGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When right-hander Pedro Astacio was traded from the Dodgers to the Colorado Rockies for second baseman Eric Young on Aug. 18, Astacio described it as being banished "to the desert."

Instead, it has turned out to be an oasis for Astacio, who has prospered even though his new team plays in Coors Field, a wasteland for pitchers, a spot where Sandy Koufax would have been proud to keep his earned-run average at 4.00.

Astacio, who will face the Dodgers tonight at Dodger Stadium in the opener of yet another crucial series for both clubs, is 4-0 with Colorado with a 2.82 ERA. He has 41 strikeouts and only 10 walks in 38 1/3 innings.

From the Dodgers' standpoint, it's still a great trade, despite Astacio's success. They got the second baseman they desperately needed in Young for a pitcher who had been struggling. Astacio was 7-9 with the Dodgers this season with a 4.10 ERA. Included in there was a seven-game losing streak and a public shouting match with Manager Bill Russell.

In five previous years with the Dodgers, Astacio had been 41-38 with a 3.60 ERA.

Yet despite his troubles with the Dodgers, despite his anger over being demoted to the bullpen just before the trade, despite the opportunity he has to hurt his former team's chances for a divisional title, Astacio insists he has no additional motivation to do well tonight.

"It's nothing special," he said of tonight's return. "I'm just going to pitch like they are any other team. It's like a normal game."

If you believe that, you probably also believe it wouldn't mean anything special for Colorado Manager Don Baylor, who has had his share of feuds with the Dodgers, to knock them out of the postseason picture.

Has Astacio talked to his pitching coach, Frank Funk, about tonight's Dodger Stadium assignment?

"He's been pretty quiet about it," Funk said. "He hasn't talked much about it.

"From the little I've gotten to know Pedro, I wouldn't be able to say if it's going through his mind. He seems to be able to handle his emotions pretty well. He knows how to channel them in the right direction."

Funk feels that glaring down from the mound at his former teammates can only be a good thing for Astacio.

"It just might make him better," Funk said. "I don't know. I'm sure it has to have special significance for him. If you're human, it's going to enter into the equation for sure."

Astacio certainly has no animosity for his best friend on the Dodgers, Ramon Martinez, a fellow pitcher and a fellow native of the Dominican Republic.

The two were inseparable when they were on the same club, and they still remain close, speaking by phone.

"He can pitch anywhere," Martinez said, "and he knows now that he can pitch in Coors Field. He will give up runs, but it's all right as long as he knows that. He has adjusted.

"He has turned the trade into a positive."

But whatever he may say publicly, Astacio has to feel that the most positive thing he can do right now is to beat the team that he believes gave up on him.

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