by HOWIE STALWICK & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & ilfredo Boscan is just 18 years old, and he looks the part. His face is boyish, his body gangly, his manner reserved in the presence of adults.
Place Boscan on a pitcher's mound, however, and voila! He turns into a wily old veteran of the professional baseball wars, a boy who pitches like a man.
When the Spokane Indians open the Northwest League playoffs Thursday night at Avista Stadium, Boscan is expected to be on the mound. The second-year pro out of Venezuela was named the league's all-star right-handed starting pitcher after finishing the regular season with a 9-1 record. He led the league in wins and ranked close to the top with a 3.12 earned run average, 70 strikeouts and 69 1/3 innings pitched.
"He's poised, and his ability to make adjustments and read hitters is just amazing," says Indians hitting coach Luis Ortiz. "I guess some kids just have it. Some kids are just prodigies and 'get it' a little sooner than other kids."
"He just has such a feel for pitching... he's so mature for his age," adds Indians pitching coach Mike Anderson. "What's the magic thing that happened to him? He's got a lot of knowledge and savvy."
Boscan, who signed with the Texas Rangers at 16 and turned pro in the Rookie-class Dominican Summer League last season (2-1, 1.75), has remarkable control for someone so young and inexperienced. In 126 minor league innings, he's struck out 131, walked only 24 and given up just 108 hits.
"Since I was in Little League, I've always thrown strikes," Boscan says while using Ortiz as his interpreter. "I'd really challenge myself not to walk anybody."
"His command of his fastball and changeup is as good as anyone in our organization," Anderson says.
Mind you, Anderson spends part of the year as a roving instructor for the Rangers. Also, Anderson pitched in the major leagues (albeit briefly) after playing college ball at little Southwestern University in Texas with Mike Timlin and Mike Stanton, two longtime major league pitchers.
Anderson says he's put in a good word for Boscan with the Rangers' brass, and they're definitely listening.
"Obviously, we're very pleased," says John Lombardo, director of minor league operations for the Rangers. "For a man of his age, with his lack of service, his performance is very encouraging."
Asked to name his favorite pitch, Boscan smiles and says, "Curveball." Anderson says Boscan's curve has improved dramatically this year, and the coach loves the way Boscan changes speeds.
"The No. 1 reason he has such good command is he doesn't overthrow," Anderson says. "Most young guys and even older guys in this game, everyone's trying to 'miss bats' and throw extra hard.
"He stays in his delivery and doesn't overthrow. What he's got the ability to do is when a runner gets on, then you see the 91 and 92 [mph fastballs] come out."
Boscan was born and raised in Maracaibo, an oil-rich city of 3 million citizens that was home to Hall of Fame shortstop Luis Aparicio. One of five children raised by a handyman and nurse, Boscan says what he misses most about Maracaibo are his parents and his mom's spaghettti.
Oh, and don't forget the arepas. That's a popular South American delicacy consisting of fried corn-flour breading stuffed with cheese, meat and egg.
Boscan and the Indians' other Latin players board during the season with "Papa George" Moore, who has opened his home to Spokane's Latin players for years. Boscan says he came to Spokane with no specific goals in mind ("Whatever happens, happens") and has been "a little surprised at the number of wins" he has accumulated.
The 6-foot-2, 187-pound Boscan won his first eight decisions before bowing to Tri-City on Aug. 24. Asked if he had been aiming for an undefeated season, Boscan says, "I wasn't really thinking that. That's hard to do. But there's always a first time."
The Northwest League's division champion Spokane Indians play a best-of-five series to determine the league champion. The first two games will be played at Avista Stadium 6:30 pm Thursday and 1:30 pm Friday. The second game starts early because it conflicts with the start of the Spokane Interstate Fair, which shares Avista's parking lot. Salem-Keizer and Eugene were still battling for the West title at press time. Call 535-2922 for tickets.