He must have hit 2,000 curveballs during the spring, staying late with Manager Tom Lasorda after every exhibition game, hitting curveballs until his arm got so sore that at one point he had to take a day off.
But the most important curveball Raul Mondesi has hit this season came Wednesday night, a solo shot in the sixth inning against Shane Reynolds, a fill-in starter for Houston who was throwing a perfect game. It was the only run the Dodgers would get in their 1-0 victory over the Astros, giving them their first three-game sweep this season.
"We are running out in the field before the (sixth inning) and Mondesi says to me, 'Bugsy, I'm going to hit a bomb next time up,' " Brett Butler said. "So we are in the dugout before he goes up and it's kind of dead, and I say, 'Mondesi doesn't lie, he said he was going to hit a bomb.' Then he goes and hits it. I said, 'Thanks for telling the truth.' "
It was a cold, damp night at Dodger Stadium, not conducive to balls flying out of the park. To add to that, Reynolds was throwing his split-fingered fastball so well that he had Lasorda checking the baseballs.
But the winning pitcher was Pedro Astacio (2-3), who pitched an outstanding game for the second consecutive start. Spotted a 1-0 lead when Mondesi hit the first pitch Reynolds threw in the sixth inning, Astacio cruised to a complete-game four-hitter.
"Inside I was confident when I came to the plate," Mondesi said. "I was waiting for a breaking ball and he made a mistake and pitched it over the middle."
The Dodgers got only one other hit. The Astros hit only five balls out of the infield, and the most threatening one should have been a double in the third inning by Andujar Cedeno. Mondesi made a running catch in right before running into the padded wall for the second consecutive game.
"He's the best fielder I have ever played with," Butler said. "He's being compared to (Roberto) Clemente and Ellis Valentine and players like that. He's like a wild stallion--he's oozing with ability."
The victory gave the Dodgers a 17-17 record, the first time they have been at .500 since the fourth game of the season. All three victories over the Astros were one-run games.
Astacio, who is more animated on the mound than in the clubhouse, retired 15 of the first 16 batters. He escaped three scoring threats by the Astros, the last one coming in the eighth inning, after Sid Bream hit for Reynolds and doubled to left. With two out, James Mouton struck out swinging, and Astacio whirled around on the mound in glee. But the ball got away from Mike Piazza, who threw to first for the out. Astacio pumped his fist and leaped off the field.
"Astacio pitched outstanding and so did the other young man, but unfortunately, he lost," Lasorda said.
Before the game, Astro Manager Terry Collins said he hoped to get five innings out of Reynolds, and what a five innings he got. Reynolds retired the first 15 batters. He had eight strikeouts, five in a row.
"He threw a good ballgame, just one pitch beat him," Delino DeShields said.
Reynolds was filling in for Pete Harnisch, who was back in Houston. An MRI exam revealed he has a partially torn tendon in his right shoulder, but he is expected to make his next start on Monday.
In Mondesi's last 11 starts, he is batting .325 with four doubles, three homers and eight runs scored.
"Those curveball sessions, all of them paid off," Lasorda said.