César Valdez's success was a highlight of Orioles' season - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Rich Dubroff

César Valdez’s success was a highlight of Orioles’ season

Photo Credit: Joy R. Absalon

One of the best stories of the Orioles’ 2020 season was the return to the major leagues of 35-year-old César Valdez. The Orioles signed him out of the Mexican League. He wasn’t invited to major league spring training, but he performed well as an extra pitcher during Grapefruit League games.

The Orioles added him to the roster for the last four weeks of the season. In his first big league appearances since 2017, he had a 1.26 ERA in nine games, allowing two earned runs on seven hits in 14 1/3 innings. What made his story even better was the way he got hitters out — with slow and slower stuff while everyone else was focused on the radar gun.

Valdez, who has pitched in just 29 major league games with Arizona, Oakland, Toronto and the Orioles, will pitch for Licey in the Dominican Winter League for the eighth time. That season begins on Sunday.

With the assistance of Orioles interpreter Rámon Alarcon, Valdez spoke from the Dominican Republic on a Zoom call.

This interview was edited for style.

Question: What was last season like?

Valdez: “It was a blessing from God. It was a great opportunity provided by the Baltimore Orioles, and it’s something I’m never going to forget. I was not expecting something like that to happen at this stage in my life. It did, and I’m very appreciative for it.”

Q: How surprising was that opportunity?

A: “To be quite honest, I was not expecting something like this to happen at 35 years old. It was very surprising to me. That’s why I’m very happy about it. I was so excited about it. It gave me a lot of joy and pride. I’m looking forward to more next year. Hopefully, I can continue to be with the organization and just provide what I can do.”

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Q: You’ve never pitched a full season in the big leagues. Is that your next goal?

A: ”That is something that’s on my mind. If given the opportunity to come back, I’d like to do that. Right now, I’m getting ready for it. I’m training and, hopefully, I get that opportunity. It’s something I’m missing in my career and, hopefully, I can accomplish that next year.”

Q: How was it being the old guy in the bullpen with all those young pitchers?

A: “I felt comfortable with the group of guys that were there with me. There was a whole lot of respect from me, and from them. They made me feel comfortable right from the get-go. It’s something I’m never going to forget, and I’m looking forward to seeing them again next season.”

Q: Did they come to you with questions because you were the veteran?

A: “They wanted to know my grip, how I grip my ball, and how I threw my pitches and my breaking ball, especially my changeup. They wanted to learn more about the Mexican League, and where I was the past few years. It was good to provide that feedback to them. Hopefully, they can use it for their development.”

Q: In today’s baseball, pitchers are taught to throw as hard as can for as long as they can. Do you feel different because that’s not your style of pitching?

A: “It’s no secret that I’m not a flamethrower. I don’t throw 95 mph. I can’t do that, but I try to stick with what I have. I try to do what I’ve been successful at and try to do it as often as I can. That’s how it’s been throughout my career, and that’s what’s gotten me an opportunity at the big-league level. I’ll try to continue to do that.

Q: Your numbers in the Dominican and Mexican leagues were so good in 2018 and 2019. Did you change anything to make yourself so successful?

A: “I have made several changes from five or six years ago. One of them is to change the angle of my pitches, also try to increase movement of my pitches and especially to play around with my changeup to try to make it as unpredictable as possible. I made several adjustments in my career. I had to do it in order to survive.”

Q: What was pitching in the Mexican League like as a veteran? Was it a comedown from the major leagues?

A: “At the beginning, it was very tough. Obviously, I was not used to that kind of baseball before. It’s the same baseball, but it’s a different league. I had to make an adjustment to playing in that league. My mindset was that I need to provide for my family, so I need to do whatever it takes in order to support my family.”

Q: Most people think that baseball players make lots of money, but you’ve had to struggle. How would you compare your lifestyle with other big leaguers? (Valdez laughed at the idea that all players are wealthy.)

A: “I signed to play professional baseball in 2005 for a signing bonus of $7,000. Definitely, in my case, I haven’t had the privilege of making millions and millions of dollars. I’m very thankful for the family that I have, for the teachings of my parents. They taught me not to throw away money. I’ve always had the support from them. That’s my main thing, to try to take care of my family and support them. I am comfortable. I have my house. I have my family. I can provide for them, but it’s definitely been a long journey.”

Q: What’s been the hardest part of your journey?

A: “In 2014, I was not able to play baseball anywhere. I was hurt and that was a really tough situation for me. I’m very thankful for the wife that I have. She was able to provide for our family and support me during those difficult times. I’m never going to forget that. The following year, 2015, I lost my dad. That was a very painful experience.”

Q: Are you going to pitch in the Dominican Winter League?

A: “I am. I will participate this season. The season starts on Sunday. I’m going to pitch out of the bullpen just to keep my arm active and to be ready for spring training.”

Q: Are you doing this because it’s enjoyable or to help support your family?

A: “I enjoy it and also it’s an opportunity for my arm to continue to be active. I’ve been used to pitching winter ball for so many years. That’s what I’m used to by this time so I’m looking forward to it.”

Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Raymo

    November 13, 2020 at 8:37 am

    Thank you for this heartwarming interview with one of my favorite Orioles. I sure have a soft spot for the underdog. Do you think there’s any chance they would try him as a starter or maybe an opener?

    Meanwhile, I’ll raise my coffee cup to Senior Valdez. Here’s wishing you a successful 2021 with the O’s.

    • Rich Dubroff

      November 13, 2020 at 2:05 pm

      Ray, I don’t think starting for the Orioles is in Valdez’s future, but I think he’s a possibility to make the team as a multi-inning reliever in 2021.

  2. Boog Robinson Robinson

    November 13, 2020 at 10:26 am

    Edited for “style”? Rich …what exactly does that mean? In any case, nice interview.

    Gotta love Cesar ‘eh? I’ve always been a big fan of the junk-ball type pitchers. Especially anybody that can throw a knuckler, which along with the screwball, seems to be lost artform these days. In any case, I believe that well placed in a rotation, somebody that throws such soft stuff helps the rest of the staff with its’ contrast in tempo/velocity, and conversely, the rest of the staff helps the junk baller. I know Valdez doesn’t throw either of these pitches, but perhaps Valdez could provide such contrast in his own way? Sort of like Jamie Moyer did? Give ’em the Bugs Bunny stuff I say!

    Outside of RA Dickey & Mike Wright, I can’t remember ANYBODY this century that threw a Knuckler, and frankly, I can’t remember a screwball pitcher since one Mike Cuellar took the mound for the O’s in the 1970s’. Surely somebody has thrown that pitch since then?

    • Rich Dubroff

      November 13, 2020 at 2:03 pm

      Ken, I think you mean Steven Wright, not Mike Wright as a knuckleballer. The Orioles had a pitcher in their system, Eddie Gamboa, who pitched briefly for Tampa Bay in 2016. They currently have Mickey Jannis in their system, too, who was in the Mets’ organization. And, there was Tim Wakefield, pitching as recently as 2011.

      As for screwballs, Hector Santiago, who pitched for a number of teams is the most recent one I can think of. He was with the Mets and White Sox in 2019. The late Tug McGraw made a living out of the screwball, too.

      • Boog Robinson Robinson

        November 13, 2020 at 2:17 pm

        You are correct … NOT Mike Wright. Gives me the willies just thinking of that guy!

        Great information on McGraw…saw him pitch on more than a couple of times, but for the life of me, I don’t remember hearing he threw a screwball. I guess it’s true, memory is one of the 1st things to go ….

        But I do remember rooting for Gamboa … just a few years ago I believe.

        Thanks Rich

  3. Tony Paparella

    November 13, 2020 at 2:06 pm

    Great article from my standpoint,and kudos to you Rich for providing it.I was amazed at his performance and have always liked those Mexican League pitchers and have to hand it to who ever noticed Cesar and to Valdez himself for pitching to that high a degree.But what is most interesting and heartwarming is his down to earth perspective on family and the way he carries on in life.Most certainly a dedicated individual who i hope can continue having success for a few more years as he seems like a person who deserves it for sure.I am also thinking (getting ahead of myself) this guy can be a valuable asset to the team after baseball, as it may be wise to employ him as a coach,scout,etc. because of his dedication and appreciation to the game and this organization,

    • CalsPals

      November 13, 2020 at 2:21 pm

      Makes a lot of sense Tony, not a bad idea…go O’s…

    • Raymo

      November 13, 2020 at 4:48 pm

      Interesting suggestion Tony. I hope Mr. Elias is reading this.

    • dlgruber1

      November 13, 2020 at 10:05 pm

      Only if he’s willing to take a massive pay cut. Times are tough in Birdland right now. Of course you all already knew that.

  4. Rob IsraOsFan

    November 13, 2020 at 3:53 pm

    Good luck to Mr. Valdez! If he can control the slow stuff and keep batters off balance, there is always the possibility of him pitching for many years to come, maybe even into his early 40’s.

    History was also made earlier today…congrats and good luck also go out to Kim Ng, who today was named the first female GM in all of MLB (Marlins), and also the first in the four major US sports.

  5. WorldlyView

    November 13, 2020 at 4:05 pm

    How is Ms.Ng’s name pronounced?

    • Rob IsraOsFan

      November 13, 2020 at 4:28 pm

      I believe her last name is pronounced “eng”

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