Valencia comes through in clutch

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 21, 2011 - 6:37 AM

The third baseman's batting average is nothing to brag about, but he bears down when men are on base.

Danny Valencia ranks 10th among the Twins' position players with more than 100 at-bats with a .232 batting average.

But Valencia has proved that batting average is not as important as runs batted in, in which he leads the team with 51. Valencia also has 13 game-winning hits and four walk-off hits over the past two seasons.

Those statistics include his two crucial hits in the final two victories of the series with Cleveland this week -- a two-run single in the ninth inning in Tuesday's 2-1 win and a tiebreaking eighth-inning single that drove in the go-ahead run Wednesday in a 7-5 victory. Valencia leads the team with walk-off hits this year at three.

Only Michael Cuddyer, with 160 total bases, has more than the 135 of the former University of Miami standout. Valencia also is second on the team in homers with 11, behind only Cuddyer's 14.

With Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Denard Span, Delmon Young and Jim Thome out for long stretches, it has been Valencia and Cuddyer who have carried a team that has had a hard time scoring runs.

Last season Valencia hit .311 with seven homers and 40 RBI in 291 at-bats after being called up on June 3, so he has shown he can hit for a high average as well as for power.

"I like to consider myself one of the big hitters, also," Valencia said. "But hitting behind Jim Thome, obviously you know they're going to pitch around him to get to me, so being able to come into those situations and capitalize and get the job done for our team to win is all that I care about, and I'm happy we got a win."

Does he feel pressure coming up so many times with the tying or winning runs on base?

"You can never get enough of those [at-bats], you want as many as you can get," Valencia said. "To have a lot of RBI and some homers and just have production, just helping the team win games is all I care about, really. But I would like to get my average up.

"I don't feel too much pressure; occasionally I do, more so from my mom, but I don't feel that much pressure out there because it's just easy for me to relax, really."

Great feeling to win

Valencia talked about what a great feeling it is to drive in those winning and go-ahead runs.

"You always want to come through for the team and get big hits and you pride yourself on that," he said. "You always want to be a clutch player. To be able to come through in those situations is huge, I'm just happy to get them.

"It feels good, especially with the other players that we have in our lineup. It's not that they can't do it, it's just they don't come up in those situations as often. They're normally on base when I come through with those hits.

"I feel pretty good about myself. I feel confident. I've always had confidence out there. I feel that if I don't try and do too much that I'm going to find the ball and hit the ball hard somewhere. I'm inconsistent here and there but I feel pretty good right now. I feel good at the plate. Sometimes things don't go your way in this game, and I think this year it's been a combination of that."

Valencia picked a good time to have two great games, with his father in town.

And after going 1-for-4 in Wednesday's victory, what were his plans Wednesday night?

"I'm going to get some dinner, maybe in downtown somewhere. I'm not going to tweet where. I'm going to catch up on "True Blood" and maybe some "Curb Your Enthusiasm" episodes."

Relief help soon?

The rumor around Target Field on Wednesday was that the Twins were close to acquiring some middle relief help. The Twins lost a big chunk of their bullpen last season when four top relievers left the team via free agency, and those pitchers are having mixed success with their new squads.

Jesse Crain is having the best season of the four, posting a 5-2 record with a 2.32 ERA and 0.94 WHIP for the White Sox. Crain has struck out 42 batters while walking only 15. Crain, who was 1-1 with a 3.04 ERA with the Twins last year, has a 3.31 career ERA.

Matt Guerrier has had a up-and-down season with the Dodgers. After posting a 4.11 ERA in April he followed that with a 2.45 ERA in May and a 6.39 ERA in June. But he has rebounded well this month, posting a 0.00 ERA in 3.1 innings. On the season Guerrier is 3-3 with a 4.04 ERA, well above his career mark of 3.43.

Pat Neshek had a 1.54 ERA at the end of May for the San Diego Padres but that has ballooned since, posting a 5.79 ERA in June over 9.1 innings. He has a 4.50 ERA this month in three appearances, including his first loss of the season on July 6.

Jon Rauch, who the Twins have talked about reacquiring, hasn't had a great year in Toronto with a 3-3 record and a 4.12 ERA and seven saves. Rauch also has only 27 strikeouts in 39.1 innings and has given up six home runs.

Jottings

• J Robinson lost one of his top assistant coaches when Joe Russell accepted the head coaching job at George Washington University. Russell graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1992 and this past year was his 16th year working under Robinson.

• Former Twins shortstop J.J. Hardy signed a three-year contract with the Orioles for $22 million after getting $5.85 million this year. The Twins paid him $5 million last year. Hardy is hitting .278 with 14 homers and 37 RBI.

• At the 2011 Marshfield Clinic Northwoods All-Star game in Wisconsin Rapids on Monday, Gophers infielder Dan Olinger was named the Star of Stars. The redshirt freshman went 3-for-4 with an RBI and two runs scored.

• On July 9, Gophers distance runner Ben Blankenship won the 1,500 meters in a meet in Kortrijk, Belgium. His time of 3 minutes, 37.23 seconds was a personal best and beat the school record of 3:39.77 set in 2010 by 2.5 seconds. Blankenship will return to school next season. Also winning that day was former Gophers runner Heather Kampf in the 800. The Team USA Minnesota runner won in 2:03.49. Teammate and fellow former Gopher Gabriel Anderson was third in the women's 1,500 in 4:14.54.

• Will Johnson, a 6-7, 250-pound tight end at Osseo, is a strong national recruit being sought by schools such as Auburn. The Gophers are pursuing Johnson as well.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. shartman@startribune.com

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