The vicious Valdez takes, Akin’s audition and humble Harvey

César Valdez retires the side in order with his bizarro changeup and he’s a lovable, unorthodox closer who should get the ball in every save opportunity. An intriguing and embraceable success story. Who cares about his velocity?

He blows a save and suddenly he doesn’t belong in the role and the Orioles are clowns for refusing to find a better option. Enough of the warm and fuzzies. Can’t close with that velocity.

It’s exhausting and predictable.

Thumbnail image for Valdez-Throws-White-Exhibition-Sidebar.jpgValdez is not a prototypical closer and is not necessarily the first choice. He’s the best choice on the current team.

Cole Sulser could argue, and he won’t, that he’s earned another opportunity after walking away from it - pun intended - last summer. Otherwise, give me a true candidate.

Jorge López based on his first inning stats and upper-90s sinker? He’s in the rotation and, if removed, more likely to work in long relief. Which Valdez certainly could do based on his ability to go multiple innings and bounce back quickly.

Hunter Harvey is on the 60-day injured list, preparing for simulated games in Sarasota, Fla. and just trying to get back on the active roster and pitch in the majors. In any capacity.

Closing isn’t in his immediate future and no one knows whether he’ll ever be able to audition for it.

Tanner Scott has the blazing fastball and filthy slider, but also those lapses in control.

A closer on a rebuilding club isn’t a priority. I’ll refrain from again using the analogy about putting shiny hubcaps on a rusted car, but finding a proven ninth-inning specialist just isn’t as urgent a task, no matter how much a lost lead stings.

Valdez’s third blown save Tuesday night at Citi Field easily could have spun in the other direction.

Rio Ruiz, moved to third base, couldn’t handle a sharp grounder from Kevin Pillar. The ball ate him up and was scored a hit. Jonathan Villar poked a single into right field. Dominic Smith lofted a high, shallow fly ball that fell in right-center field, with Austin Hays making an ill-advised attempt at a diving catch.

Ramón Urías’ throw home missed its intended target and the error allowed Villar to take third base. Patrick Mazeika grounded to Trey Mancini and I was ready to mark the out at home plate on my imaginary scorecard, except catcher Pedro Severino had to reach up for the throw and couldn’t slap the tag before Villar scored the winning run.

To review: Ground ball, ground ball, fly ball, ground ball, walk-off loss.

“It’s just a really unlucky inning, a bad luck inning,” manager Brandon Hyde said yesterday in his Zoom call with the media. “That’s a tough play for Rio there to start the inning off, then a groundball single through a fly ball to no man’s land and a fielder’s choice. Unfortunately, we didn’t push a couple more across and make it a little bit easier for him. Just didn’t go our way.”

During his previous outing against the Red Sox, Valdez threw the changeup 40 percent of the time, the slider 30 and the four-seam fastball 30, per BrooksBaseball.net. He used the changeup 91.3 percent versus the Mets, an opponent more unfamiliar with him.

“He got a couple changeups possibly elevated, but he doesn’t give up many balls hit on the barrel,” Hyde said.

“I think as teams see him more he might have to pitch a little bit different, but that changeup’s a plus pitch and if he keeps it down it’s going to be really tough to barrel. People haven’t hit him very hard. When you’re a pitch-to-contact guy and kind of a groundball guy, sometimes balls get through, and for me that’s just what happened.”

James McCann struck out prior to Smith’s fly ball, which was described in the MLB Gameday wrap as a “line drive.” That’s like describing me as Sofía Vergara.

The expected batting average on Smith’s ball was .070. The game ended on a fielder’s choice. My interest in checking Twitter ended with a fan attacking Valdez’s weight and hygiene and demanding that he be shipped back to the Mexican League.

Valdez won’t be confused with Mariano Rivera, but he deserved better Tuesday night. During the game and after it.

* Left-hander Keegan Akin made his 2021 debut yesterday and retired the three batters faced in the sixth inning.

It gets better.

Akin struck out two. Only four of his 12 pitches were outside the zone.

Mets starter Taijuan Walker watched three fastballs down the middle and headed back to the dugout. Following instructions that began with Matt Harvey on the mound. He could have come to the plate carrying a broom handle and it wouldn’t have mattered.

Villar struck out chasing a 91.4 mph fastball and Francisco Lindor flied to center field.

The Orioles didn’t break camp with Akin due to his command issues and lack of aggression in the zone. He allowed 10 runs and 15 hits in nine innings and walked seven batters, but also struck out 14.

He received specific instructions upon reporting to the alternate training site in Bowie.

Akin was recalled on Monday to provide a long relief option in the bullpen after making eight appearances (six starts) last summer. There are no immediate plans to insert him into the rotation with off-days today and Monday. There are no assurances that he stays on the roster. But he was good yesterday, and that felt like a win during a 7-1 loss at Citi Field.

* Matt Harvey’s return to Queens didn’t go as he hoped except for the warm embrace from fans who forgave, though they probably couldn’t forget.

I don’t know Harvey beyond what I’ve read and the Zoom calls, with COVID restrictions making it impossible to get true reads and develop any sort of relationship with new players. But MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo, who covers the Mets, posted video of Harvey’s press conference and wrote:

“I can’t remember the last time Matt Harvey was like this in an interview -- poignant, reflective, honest, raw. It’s clear returning to Citi Field really meant something to him, as did the fact that the fans here received him warmly.”

No doubt that’s an accurate assessment given Harvey’s reputation in New York.

Yesterday, he showed remorse for his failings in the latter stages of his Mets career and how they were handled, saying, “There was a lot of, between the injuries and, I think, me getting in my own way and causing some of those problems, I feel for them. I feel for the fans. Maybe I let them down.”

He talked about being humbled and learning from his mistakes, about holding back tears through the cheers.

The only time he didn’t exhibit any regrets came when he was asked whether all those innings in 2015 - 189 1/3 in the regular season and 26 2/3 in the playoffs and World Series - led to his injuries and the downward spiral. And if it was worth it.

“That’s something I definitely don’t want to talk about,” he said.

“I wouldn’t take back going to the World Series, pitching in the playoffs, the cheers from the fans, the respect from the teammates for doing that. I wouldn’t look back on anything. Things happened. It was a lot of innings, but we were in the playoffs and we were in the World Series and that’s something that I may never get a chance to do, some of the guys over there may never get a chance to do. I would never take that back. Those experiences, those memories, the cheers coming off the field. It was something you can’t explain and will never forget.”

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