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04/07/07 9:26 PM ET
Valdez helps Lowe shine vs. Giants
Shortstop reserve makes case for more playing time
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
SAN FRANCISCO -- He's the fill-in for a substitute, so security is not in the job description, which is one reason why Wilson Valdez had to be coaxed into talking about his highly productive game Saturday. He's the 25th man only because Rafael Furcal is injured, and Valdez played Saturday only because manager Grady Little wanted to give Ramon Martinez a day off, but Little said Valdez earned a Sunday start by getting three hits, scoring a run, catching a difficult popup with his back to the plate and making nine assists without an error as the Dodgers beat the Giants again, 4-1. Valdez had a lot to do with Derek Lowe getting into the win column on the rebound from his Opening Day mess, while Lowe had a lot to do with Valdez getting all of those ground balls he fielded flawlessly. Lowe picked up a mechanical flaw and ironed it out so his sinker was sinking again, inducing 14 ground balls over seven innings. Lowe, one of the winningest pitchers over the last five years with the comfort of a $36 million contract, can throw in a clunker as he had in Milwaukee on Monday and not wonder if his name will hit the waiver wire. "So much emphasis is put on Opening Day and how you start off, that if the game in Milwaukee was in the middle of the year, it wouldn't be talked about," said Lowe. The 28-year-old Valdez, however, lives a lot more on the edge, and has throughout a nine-year professional career that has seen him change organizations seven times, with three brief Major League stints. He thought he had made the Kansas City Royals' club last spring, but wound up getting dealt to the Dodgers instead on the eve of a season which he spent entirely and not-so-happily at Triple-A Las Vegas as an insurance policy never called upon. Despite an eye-opening Spring Training at Vero Beach, he never assumed he had the club made and there's no telling if he would have had Furcal not been injured. Nor is there any clue what will happen to Valdez when Furcal is healthy. Valdez is out of options and, the better he plays, the greater chance another club will grab him if the Dodgers try to move him off the active roster. "You have to go ask Grady," he said when asked if he wondered about his future when Furcal heals. "I don't think about that, I have no control. I only can control when they have me play." Valdez was in total control at shortstop. He made backhand plays in the hole that showed off his strong arm, raced toward center field to grab a popup that appeared ready to drop untouched, charged slow rollers, hung in there on short-hops and started a double play. Little said Valdez will play shortstop again Sunday. Martinez also will return to the lineup, but at third base replacing Wilson Betemit, who at 1-for-15 is not looking like the answer at the hot corner. "Valdez was the MVP of the game, to tell you the truth," said Little. "He had the kind of Spring Training to earn his way onto the club and showed out there today he's earned a little more playing time." Take away Valdez's offense and former Giant Jeff Kent's two-run double off Russ Ortiz, and the Dodgers might not have run their win streak to three with their seventh consecutive victory at AT&T Park. The team batting average is .212 and the club came into the game last in the league in on-base and slugging percentage. Of course, nobody expected the Dodgers lineup to be a juggernaut, anyway. Coming into the season, it was always about the pitching and Lowe matched Brad Penny's one run in seven innings from the night before, which followed Jason Schmidt's one run in five innings. "Stuff-wise, that was like night and day from Milwaukee; you couldn't compare them," Lowe said. "The hitters tell me if I have good stuff. If they hit the ball in the air, it's not where I want it to be. I didn't have a good feel Monday. I figured out what was wrong, and it was good to see what I thought was wrong was right." Huh? While keeping Giants hitters from lifting the ball, Lowe neutralized the potential damage his shaky outfield could cause. He was victimized in Milwaukee by several catchable balls that fell, as well as close pitch calls he didn't get Monday that looked like strikes to plate umpire Bruce Froemming on Saturday. "He had a lot less activity in the outfield than in Milwaukee," said Little. "When Derek Lowe pitches and we come in talking about the outfield play, that's not a good combination. Usually, if he's had a bad outing, it's because grounders are eluding infielders. He was good today start to finish." Jonathan Broxton and Takashi Saito put the Giants down in the eighth and ninth, Saito recording his third consecutive save.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.