Valdez Shines In New Role

Throughout the 2007 campaign, the Clippers have received solid performances from a number of their middle relievers. Right-hander Edward Valdez has been an integral part of the bullpen staff and he talked with on Friday about the success he has had in his first year at the Triple-A level.

When the Opening Day rosters came out, Edward Valdez found out that he would be supplying his services to Double-A Harrisburg. However, that state of affairs did not last long. After pitching five scoreless innings in three appearances, Valdez was called up from Harrisburg to Columbus on April 18.

Since then, the Clippers have called on the 27-year-old quite frequently when in need of a consistent arm in the later innings. Valdez has pitched 24 innings for Columbus going into Friday's game against Toledo, trailing only Jermaine Van Buren for the most innings pitched out of the bullpen. In 13 games, he has put together a 1-0 record with a 3.75 ERA and 22 strikeouts.

Those are impressive numbers for a player who had never played above the Double-A level before this year. Valdez spent all of last year with Double-A Chattanooga while in the Cincinnati organization, finishing with a 7-10 record as a starter. Valdez said he is still adjusting to making the transition up to Triple-A ball. Although he is gaining confidence and becoming more comfortable, it has been a gradual process.

"This is my first year I have played here, so I feel a little different," Valdez said. "I will take it day to day."

Not only has Valdez had to get used to the heightened level of competition, but he has had to do so in an unfamiliar role. During most of his career, Valdez has been a starter, but this year he has been pitching exclusively out of the bullpen. He even saw time as a closer for Harrisburg in the first week of the season, going 1 for 1 in save opportunities. The Dominican Republic native has shined in his new role, but he aspires to eventually move back into a starting spot.

"When I signed, they told me, ‘you're starting,'" Valdez said, but plans changed when the season started. "I'm not feeling as comfortable relieving because it is my first year [in the bullpen]. I feel more comfortable starting."

Valdez maintains four pitches in his repertoire: fastball, slider, changeup and a two-seam sinker. Most of the extra work he has put in during the off-season and during his days off has been devoted to improving his slider and his sinker. He said he hopes to blend these off-speed pitches with his fastball in order to keep hitters guessing. Thus far, Valdez has left many of his opponents back on their heels, but he obviously knows that there is always room for improvement.

In addition to his off-speed pitches, Valdez has also been working on his mechanics with runners on base in recent weeks. When pitching from the stretch, Valdez said he has not always been pointing straight to the plate, and his control and follow-through have suffered as a result. Lately, Valdez has been working with the coaching staff to fix this issue.

"The manager told me he wants me working straight, pointing straight to home plate before I throw. I'm working on it everyday," Valdez said.

For close followers of the minor leagues, it may seem like Valdez appeared out of thin air, but there is an explanation for his puzzling history. Before the 2003 season, Valdez was known as Rafael German. However, he changed his name and—although the name change and success on the mound may not actually be related—he has been on the fast track to the majors ever since.  In addition to changing his name, he has also had to adjust to life in America by learning English, just as most young Hispanic players have had to do. Valdez said he has benefited from the knowledge of the Hispanic players on the Clippers because they have helped him fine-tune his English speaking skills.

But it is not a mastery of the English language that is his ultimate goal. Instead and more importantly, Valdez is working on his game in hopes of one day donning a Nationals uniform. If he continues to provide consistent outings, he should be able to expect a late-season promotion. Not bad considering this is his first year in the Nationals organization.

"I'm working hard and I want to go to Washington because I've never been to the big-leagues," Valdez said. "I'm waiting for my chance."

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