CLEARWATER, Fla. — After listening to Danny Valencia speak Saturday morning, I came away with one prevailing thought: This signing is not a good fit with the Orioles’ roster currently as is.
Don’t get me wrong: $1.2 million on a minor league deal – with as much as $3 million more in incentives – for a guy who has been a career .269 big league hitter, mashes lefties (.313 in his career) and can play adequately around the diamond could be a bargain.
And Valencia is familiar with the Orioles – having played 52 games and batting .304 with them in 2013.
“It’s almost like a ‘see you later’ than a goodbye. I still hang out with these guys,” Valencia said Saturday morning. “Me and (Adam) Jones have been pretty close. Me and Manny (Machado) have been pretty close. Some of these guys are your friends. So, it’s nice to be back with them. It’s a place where I really enjoyed my time here. I had some success here. It’s a place, being familiar with, I’m definitely excited to be here again.”
But Valencia, 33, clearly expects to be part of the club heading into Opening Day. He said he wouldn’t accept an assignment to the minors if he didn’t make the 25-man roster.
“I have nothing to prove down there,” he said. “I’ve been a productive big leaguer. And it is what it is. Obviously, you want to be in the big leagues and I think it will all work out.”
Valencia isn’t wrong. As club Executive Vice President Dan Duquette likes to say, Valencia is a qualified major leaguer. But the Orioles looked to be set in the corner infield and at DH. And already had a bounty of right-handed hitting outfielders.
And then, hours after the signing was announced, manager Buck Showalter told reporters that starting first baseman Chris Davis was scheduled for an MRI of his right elbow/forearm to see what has been causing discomfort.
Now, the results came back favorably. No structural damage in Davis’ arm. In a few days, he should be back playing again.
And the Orioles had been talking with Valencia before the Davis injury. They also signed Pedro Alvarez before Davis first felt discomfort.
Yet this is the whole point of depth signings. Even ones that will expire by late March if the roster can’t be cracked. It is possible that Valencia could make the team as a utility infielder since Tim Beckham could move from third base back to shortstop if there is an issue with Machado (Valencia is not a shortstop).
Signings like Valencia’s may not be an obvious fit for the Orioles. But once a regular gets hurt – and there are weeks left in spring training – a guy like him or Alvarez can be particularly helpful.
Gausman pitches superbly Saturday
Kevin Gausman left his first start of the Grapefruit League season Monday after colliding with a Detroit Tigers player and suffering a cut near his left eye.
His second start featured almost no contact at all – with Gausman or the pitches he threw.
Gausman was superb in three innings Saturday against a fairly representative Philadelphia Phillies lineup. He didn’t allow a baserunner, struck out five and permitted one ball to leave the infield – a fly out by veteran Carlos Santana.
“I was throwing everything. Had a real good feel for my slider today, and I got some strikeouts on it,” Gausman said. “More than anything for me, it starts with fastball command. Even the counts that I got behind, I was able to get back into, and keep groundballs. For me, when I’m going good, I get a lot of groundballs and weak contact. I try to assess my starts on that, and today was pretty good.”
His slider was particularly nasty and he continued to throw his fastball at 97 mph until the end of his outing. He threw 39 pitches – an efficient average of 13 per inning – and 25 were strikes. He also got back on the mound without incident following the uncertainty when he left Monday’s contest.
“I wanted to be on my regular schedule today. There’s no reason why I couldn’t be. It felt great,” said Gausman, the first Orioles starter to complete three innings this spring. “You’re always trying to take that next step in spring training, specifically. It’s always good to get out there and get through three innings.”
The tremendous start has given Showalter an idea.
“Guess he’s OK from the collision; we’ll have him run into the on-deck hitter next outing, or every outing,” Showalter joked.
Sammy Stewart passes away
One of the stranger moments of my career occurred in October 2011, when I received a letter in the mail from a prisoner in North Carolina.
It was from former Orioles pitcher Sammy Stewart, who had been incarcerated several years earlier for a felony drug charge.
I didn’t know Stewart personally, but as a kid growing up in Baltimore in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I was plenty aware of his career as a key reliever/spot starter for the Orioles. I also knew of his post-career addiction and legal struggles.
Receiving the letter was a surprise, since we had never corresponded previously. But, as I read his words, it quickly made sense. I had been writing a lot about former Oriole pitcher Mike Flanagan, who had committed suicide earlier that year, and Stewart wanted to share his thoughts about his old teammate.
I thought about that letter Saturday after it was announced that Stewart was found dead Friday at age 63 in Hendersonville, North Carolina. A cause of death was not immediately released.
In the 2011 letter, Stewart talked about what Flanagan meant to him as a friend, teammate and confidant. And Stewart asked for forgiveness from Orioles’ fans for his transgressions. It was a poignant piece, and a sad one. He eventually was released from prison and came back to Camden Yards a couple times.
You can read that 2011 blog entry, and Stewart’s full letter, here.