Name: Rolando Valdez
DOB: January 8, 1986
Coming into the 2008 season, Valdez figuratively shot himself in the foot. He worked a lot of innings in winter ball – as a starter. Ironically, it came at a time the Padres considered throwing him back into the rotation.
Because of the innings he put on his arm during the winter, the Padres had little choice but to place him back in the pen to begin the year. Ninety innings when not in season will surely make that happen.
"He's a kid that has pitched a lot of innings in the last year and then went to winter ball and pitched a bunch of innings, so we tried to cut his innings down in winter ball so he can start all of the time," Lake Elsinore manager Carlos Lezcano said. "That's why he relieved in the first part of the year because of the innings he had in winter ball. He pitched like 80 innings in winter ball. We're going to cut that down in half, maybe pitch like 40. We're going to cut down his workload in winter league so he can start for us all year and I think he'll be alright. I think he got a little tired at the end for us in the last couple of starts."
On the plus side, Valdez was told he would go into the rotation at some point during the season with the All-Star break the ideal situation. Things would have to fall correctly for it to happen but the stage was set.
Knowing if he worked hard he could see the rotation again, Valdez recommitted himself to plying his trade.
In 2007 Valdez worked exclusively out of the bullpen. He made 58 appearances and but saw his ERA balloon to 4.11. His heart wasn't into it. It led to a plus changeup becoming ordinary and even his fastball velocity went down.
With renewed vigor, Valdez' velocity crept back up and his changeup again became sharp.
As a reliever, the right-hander posted a 4.35 ERA across 35 games. When inserted into the rotation, all of his numbers improved. His command got better, his strikeouts went up and the hits went down.
He posted a 3.77 ERA across 11 games, compiling a 7-3 record. And those numbers are skewed by one terrible outing that saw 10 runs come across on 14 hits over five frames. In his other 10 starts, Valdez notched a 2.47 ERA – fantastic numbers, especially for the California League.
The Mexico native works in the low-90s with a tailing fastball, reaching as high as 94 mph. When pitching in relief, Valdez becomes too focused on throwing the fastball and will leave it over the middle of the plate. In the rotation, he has a better understanding of how to mix his pitches – knowing he might face the same batter multiple times.
The converted outfielder has a terrific changeup – a plus pitch that has break away from left-handed hitters. He will use it in fastball counts and as an out-pitch. It is the pitch he favors with two strikes against left-handed hitters because of its expanding the zone movement on the outer half of the plate.
"Just perfecting his changeup," former Lake Elsinore pitching coach Wally Whitehurst said of his success. "He's always had a good changeup, but he threw it more which, in turn, made his fastball even better.
"His command is pretty darn good. He starts mixing in that changeup, a plus changeup with an average fastball; all of a sudden his 90 mph fastball turns in to 95. Even though, velocity wise, it doesn't say that, but when you're throwing a 68 mph changeup and then throw 95, or throw 90, it looks 95 – 100. He was able to spot it, and his curveball was effective at times, but he ended up having a good year for us. He was very consistent until right at the end. Take away the one bad outing…"
One of the positives from the regression of his changeup a season ago was the improvement of his curveball. It has progressed, but he seemed to abandon the pitch at times. It can be a little loopy and is the easiest of his pitches to identify.
"He's got a good changeup," Lezcano said. "He pitched a game in Bakersfield that he was outstanding with the changeup. He's got a breaking ball that gets loopy at times. If he tightens it up a little bit, he should be fine. He just needs to start. I think he's a better starter than a reliever."
Working on perfecting the hook will be key, especially for right-handed hitters. He doesn't have that second pitch to work the outside corner consistently against righties and hands a few too many over the plate – not stretching the zone on his glove side.
He also had more trouble coming inside to right-hander hitters than left-handed hitters – partially because he feared his fastball would not tail back over the plate and might hit them. His changeup, which has backdoor action coming back inside, is a pitch that would also be beneficial to use more often.
Valdez is a novice when it comes to holding runners close. He does not vary the looks in his delivery and can become predictable. Runners were successful in 20-of-23 attempts at taking a base off him.
"You have to get quicker to the plate, you've got to hold the ball better and vary your looks and stuff like that," Lezcano said. "We were not too good at that all the way around."
Conclusion: Valdez' mental makeup has been questioned in the past. He needs to put his heart into every pitch and every situation, regardless of whether that is out of the bullpen or in the rotation. Having the same mentality will help him succeed – rather than taking away from his stuff.
He is blessed with two plus pitches and a workable curveball. When he is on, Valdez is tough to get good wood on. He throws strikes and has the stuff – now it is putting it altogether.
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