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He's pitching to, not at, batters

Pasqual Coco is a 21-year-old right-handed pitcher who won 11 games during his last three seasons in the Toronto Blue Jays organization. So what is he doing tied with two other pitchers for most minor-league wins (14) this season?

The reason, as he explains it, is quite simple.

"I learned how to pitch," Coco said.

A native of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Coco was signed as a free agent in 1994. He was armed with a powerful fastball and a lively palmball. Trouble was, he didn't have much else.

It didn't take hitters too long to catch on to that. Coco bounced around from the Dominican Summer League (1995-96) and low Class A ball in St. Catharines ('97-98) and learned from the school of hard knocks _ literally.

His frustration reached a boiling point during an instructional league stint. As Coco recalls, he was pitching against the Phillies and he was getting hit hard.

"Double, triple, home run, I kept watching balls go over my head," Coco said.

So in order to stop the offensive surge, Coco retaliated by plunking batters. He hit three in a row before the coaches came out and scolded him.

"I was saying to myself, "I should hit some batters,' " Coco said. "But the coaches came out and asked what the hell I was doing. They said they didn't want to see me anymore. They said I needed to learn how to pitch."

Coco did just that.

He started to work on his slider, sinker and changeup in spring training and continued to develop those pitches with pitching coach Hector Barrios while he was with low Class A Hagerstown during the first half of the season. His new arsenal provided immediate results. After an early-season loss, Coco had a personal-best 10-game win streak between Hagerstown and Class A Dunedin. He is 14-3 overall and 3-2 with Dunedin.

"Pasqual is still learning to pitch," Dunedin manager Rocket Wheeler said. "But he's still leading the minor leagues in wins. He has all the potential and he's starting to show it. The fastball is there, but he needs to work off that pitch, along with his palmball.

"I'm glad to have him and to keep working with him. He's going to be a key for us the rest of the way."

RESHUFFLE: Dunedin has had plenty of roster moves lately. RHP John Sneed, who led the Florida State League in strikeouts, was promoted to Double-A Knoxville. Coming down from Knoxville was RHP Ty Hartshorn.

The team also received additional pitching help when RHPs Woody Heath and Jay Yennaco, who said they were retiring, decided to return. Heath is 6-4 and Yennaco, who previously was with Syracuse, was 2-0 in three appearances before being promoted.

And the Blue Jays recently welcomed back four players _ RHP Yan LaChapelle (Gatineau, Quebec), LHP Clint Lawrence (Oakville, Ontario), C Bobby Cripps (Powell River, British Columbia) and 1B Greg Morrison (Medicine Hat, Alberta) _ who played for Team Canada in the Pan Am Games.

NO, NO, NO: Tampa RHP Darwin Cubillan allowed no earned runs in 14 consecutive games from June 23-July 28 (18 innings, 8 hits, 5 runs, 8 walks).

_ BOB PUTNAM

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