Valaika powering his way into utility role with Orioles

SARASOTA, Fla. - One more home run and Orioles infielder Pat Valaika can match the number of times he hit the waiver wire in the offseason.

Baseball is such a crazy game.

Valaika began yesterday tied with Chris Davis for the lead in Grapefruit League homers with three, including his two-run shot Wednesday off Marlins pitcher Caleb Smith. He’s equaled his total with the Rockies in 108 games over the past two seasons.

It isn’t just the longball. Valaika has seven hits in 19 at-bats and is slashing .368/.400/.895 in seven games. He also made a terrific throw on a relay, his momentum prohibiting him from setting his feet, to nail a runner at the plate.

BaseballReference.com list Valaika as a “pinch-hitter, second baseman and shortstop,” which isn’t the most flattering way to describe a player. Especially one who also plays third, first and the outfield.

One who is looking more like a utility guy on opening day.

Valaika-Stretches-@-1st-sidebar.jpg“I’m happy. I feel good up there,” Valaika said yesterday morning. “Some things I worked on in the offseason are paying some dividends, so I feel good and just taking it one day at a time right now.”

Valaika’s brother, Chris, is the minor league hitting coordinator in the Cubs organization and a handy resource. They became immersed in cleaning up some of Valaika’s mechanical issues that have surfaced in the past.

“Pretty much normal offseason things,” Valaika said.

“You go through a season and then you have some time to look back and reflect and see what you did right, see what you did wrong and focus on those things,” he said. “That’s kind of what I’ve been doing.”

Pat hit with Chris and watched countless hours of video, rewinding to his most productive stretches at the plate. He belted 13 homers and drove in 40 runs in 182 at-bats with the Rockies in 2017.

That would be a good place to start the tape.

“Going back to see what I’ve done well in the past and just some new ideas that have been bounced around,” Valaika said.

The spring homers shouldn’t come as a huge surprise, though Valaika doesn’t carry the same power reputation as Davis.

“I think over the years, I’ve developed some power,” he said. “I’m not by any means trying to hit home runs. I think they’re just a byproduct of a good swing. The more good swings I can take, that’s what I’m trying to do.”

He’s also trying to spin his crazy offseason story into something positive.

The Orioles claimed Valaika twice and outrighted him off the 40-man roster. He’s been highly regarded and discarded.

Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias envisions a setup that includes a true utility infielder on the bench and a super-utility player who also can assist in the outfield. Valaika has a real shot at making a club that risked losing him.

“In this line of work, I’m taking it day by day and not going to focus on the future,” he said. “There’s a lot of things that are out of my control that I can’t do anything about, so all I can control is my effort and my attitude and how I approach each day. That’s what I’m going to do.”

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