Versatile Valdez on today’s outing (O’s beat Rays)

He might be the most versatile Orioles pitcher. Right-hander César Valdez could pitch in late relief or long relief. He could start the game. He could serve as an opener.

He’s ready for anything.

Today, he was the starter and pitched three innings at Ed Smith Stadium against the defending American League East champion Tampa Bay Rays. And his outing got better as he went on.

Valdez was leaving many of his pitches up in the top of the first and Tampa Bay was putting good swings on them. Francisco Mejia led off with a swinging bunt hit, advanced to second on Mike Brosseau’s single and scored on a liner to left-center by Joey Wendle. The Rays’ outs were loud that inning with Anthony Santander making a diving catch in right field and to end the inning as Ryan Boldt lined into a double play.

It didn’t take long, though, for Valdez to get his pitches down in the zone. In the second inning, he went strikeout, strikeout, weak groundout.

But speaking of hitting baseballs hard, the Orioles did that in the last of the third. Ramón Urías singled to center to lea off the inning and, one out later, Trey Mancini lined one just over the right-field fence. The Orioles took a 2-1 lead as Mancini hit No. 2 of his spring. Santander followed with a single to right and then Maikel Franco, in his second O’s game, blasted a two-run shot to left-center off right-hander Trevor Richards for a 4-1 lead.

That homer improved Franco’s batting average to .400 at 2-for-5 with four RBIs.

Valdez had another good inning in the third, which turned out to be his last. Two groundouts and a strikeout, as he retired the side in order over his last two innings. He allowed three hits and one run with no walks and three strikeouts. He threw more pitches in the bullpen after the outing.

For three spring games, he has allowed one run and four hits in five innings with one walk and eight strikeouts. That changeup was well-located down in the zone in his final two innings.

Valdez-Throws-White-Sidebar.jpg“I think it went well overall. It went from maybe not having my best stuff in the very first inning, but as the pitches went on and innings went on, I think I was able to make the proper adjustments,” he said through interpreter Ramón Alarcón. “My changeup was not as effective the first inning, but after that, I felt better and did a good job with it.”

So what role might we see Valdez pitch in when the season starts?

“I’m here to help the team, whatever role there is for me,” he said. “Hopefully, I can make the team and be a contributor. If they need an extra umpire, I’m up for it. If they need an extra hitter, I’m up for it. So just want to help the team in whatever role is available.”

He was asked if he prefers to have a defined role for the season.

“If they come to me and specify a role for me, that would be great,” Valdez said. “I’ll be happy and I’ll roll with it and try to do my job the best I can. All I need is the opportunity to pitch.”

As it relates to his “dead fish” changeup, he said teammates and even coaches have asked him how to throw it.

Valdez had some nice words for Adley Rutschman, who caught him today.

“I have a really good impression of him,” Valdez said. “Think he called a really good game. When we were in the bullpen when I was warming up, we came up with a plan and we followed the plan. I just have the best impression off him.”

Dillon Tate allowed two runs in the Rays fourth but there were no more runs scored today as the Orioles beat Tampa Bay 4-3.

Right-hander Conner Greene pitched three scoreless innings with three strikeouts and has an ERA of 1.13, allowing one run over eight innings, and he showed some mid-90s velocity. Travis Lakins Sr. pitched the last two innings and retired all six batters he faced.

Mancini had two hits and is batting .342 with an OPS of .850. Both teams had nine hits.

The Orioles improved to 8-13-1, to 6-5 at home and to 1-1 against Tampa Bay.

They play the Red Sox in Fort Myers tomorrow night at 6:05 p.m. with Dean Kremer getting the start.

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