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Reuschel Battles Back From Arm Problems

Associated Press

Rick Reuschel is a quiet, retiring individual, but the only retiring he’s done this season has been of opposing National League batters.

Reuschel, 36, battled through three seasons of arm problems to rejoin the Chicago Cubs in 1984, but the Cubs failed to re-sign him after a 5-5 season. His agent couldn’t even find a team willing to invite him to spring training.

He was contemplating retirement, until he was offered a minor league contract in late February by former Pittsburgh Pirates General Manager Harding Peterson, who had watched him pitch several times last season.

Reuschel pitched well in March for the Pirates, but didn’t make the team’s opening day roster. Peterson asked him to start the season with Hawaii of the Pacific Coast League, but Reuschel wasn’t certain if pitching in the minor leagues was what he wanted to do with his life -- especially after 12 years in the big leagues.

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Again, he considered retiring.

“He flew north with us after spring training and he was talking about retiring,” said Pirates Manager Chuck Tanner. “I knew he could still pitch and I told him to go to Hawaii, that there were 25 other major league teams.

“I think it’s the best thing he ever did.”

It was one of the few good things that has happened to the ailing Pirates’ franchise this season.

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Reuschel was 6-2 at Hawaii and led the PCL in earned run average when the Pirates purchased his contract last month. Since moving into the Pirates’ rotation, he has been the team’s most consistent starter, with a 4-1 record and a 2.30 earned run average. He is the only Pirates starter with an above-.500 record.

Not bad for a pitcher who won only six games for the New York Yankees and Cubs between 1982 and 1984 as he battled arm and shoulder problems.

“I’m healthy this year,” said Reuschel, who was 20-10 with the Cubs in 1977. “Before, I knew how to pitch and knew what I wanted to do, but my body wouldn’t let me. I’ve felt good all year and it feels good to go out there knowing I can do what I want to do on the mound.”

The Pirates, who have exited last place in the National League East only one day since mid-April 1984, have provided few runs for their pitchers this season. But they supplied Reuschel with plenty of support in an 11-2 victory Wednesday over the Montreal Expos that was his first complete game decision in 3 1/2 years.

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“He gives you a lot of confidence when he’s pitching because it’s obvious he knows what he’s doing,” said infielder Bill Almon. “When we scored three runs in the first inning I figured that was all he needed.”

Reuschel doesn’t have an overpowering fastball, but effectively mixes speeds and pitches and usually puts the ball on the corners.

“He’s an excellent athlete. For his size, he’s an exceptional athlete,” Tanner said. “He fields his position well, he can run the bases and he’s helped us as a hitter.”

Reuschel is hitting .176 with three runs batted in and has even stolen a base. He’s no speed merchant, but he has helped his quickness by shedding 20-30 pounds from the portly 250 pounds he once carried with the Cubs.

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“The weight didn’t bother me,” Reuschel said. “The arm did. I’m just glad to be healthy again.”


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