Danny Valencia has spent the past two months taking hold of a chance to play every day and smash the platoon perception that's followed him to every stop in his major league career, to say nothing of some of the clubhouse concerns that come with a player who has bounced around the league as much as he has.
That mercenary mindset has helped him dodge many of those pitfalls despite the Orioles' struggles this season, creating a legitimate headache as manager Buck Showalter tries and finds a way to keep him in the lineup now that Tim Beckham is back at third base.
Valencia has a .292/.358/.485 batting line and eight home runs in 54 games. The 33-year-old qualifies as one of the team's most consistent hitters while filling an everyday role that far outweighed the lefty-masher reserve role that was expected when he signed in spring training to be a depth piece.
"When you say ‘weren't expected’ — I expect it, because I had done it before," he said. "If I had never done it before and never had big years, or at least good years where I've done it against all pitching, I would be surprised. But I'm not surprised. It's just really a culmination of hard work."
A lot has changed since Valencia was last an Oriole in 2013 — most notably, his platoon skills. He's actually hitting righties for a better average than lefties this year, and though it's been a stark difference favoring lefties over the course of his career, he's more than held his own against each arm side this season.
"Danny's always been this," Showalter said. "I think this is about as good as I've seen him versus both sides, right- and left-handed pitching. Danny has stepped up defensively, he's having a solid year. And it's funny — not funny — but when a team has had its struggles, it's like everything gets a blanket put around it that everything is not good. And there are some good. Danny has been kind of re-establishing himself and reminding some people of why he's been wanted on a lot of clubs — and will be again."
Valencia credits all that to a few things. He said working with the hitting coaches, especially assistant hitting coach Howie Clark, has been key this season. So has being in the lineup regularly, an opening created when injuries to Beckham and Jonathan Schoop jumbled the Orioles infield. The fact that he was essentially a regular freed up a lot of aspects of his game, he said.
"Obviously, when you're out there, you don't feel like you're living and dying with just the result of getting a hit or trying to get on base," Valencia said. "You can have good at-bats, and in this game, you can do everything perfectly right as a hitter and you can still get out. You've got to find the silver lining in that. When you hit the ball hard in this league, not only do your teammates know but that pitcher knows. And that's a win for me in my opinion as a hitter, that you have to carry forward and not bury yourself just based on the result."
That message is one Valencia has had occasion to tell a few of his younger teammates this season. He often reminds Trey Mancini how much he liked watching him hit when the Orioles and Seattle Mariners crossed paths last season, and how that hitter is still in there. Same goes for Jonathan Schoop.
"In the spring even, he said he was impressed with the way I hit and the way I play," Mancini said. "He's always kind of tried to reiterate that, even through some of my struggles. He's been great at just kind of reminding me that I've had a lot of success and I can do this."
All that runs counter to the perception some around the game hold that Valencia isn't a player you want around your team. It's easy to buck that when a player is hot and in the lineup every day. But really, his example of hitting through the team's struggles is almost refreshing in its contrast with what pretty much everyone on the team except Manny Machado and Adam Jones has done all year.
It's a self-motivation that's required to keep him going this way.
"I think the best players in the league are self-motivated,” Valencia said, “and most of the guys who are superstars in this game are a little egotistical and have that confidence and determination and believe in themselves that no matter what, if they're not feeling great, they can convince themselves mentally that they're going to get the job done.
"Confidence goes a long way in this game. The power of the mind is no joke. I feel like if you can convince yourself that you're going to get things done, chances are you're going to follow through with that. I've seen guys get buried because they feel they can't get the job done, then you have their teammates who feel, 'Oh, maybe they're struggling,' and it snowballs and they're never the same player again. I want the guy on my team who believes in himself because when things aren't going right, that guy’s confidence is not going to waver and he's going to show up."
Valencia has been all the best versions of that as an everyday player at third base, something he won't be again now that Beckham is back — at least as long as the roster stays the way it is. Showalter put Valencia in right field Tuesday, a glimpse of what he might do against left-handed pitching with Mark Trumbo serving as the designated hitter.
“I think he's a great player and he needs to play," Valencia said of Beckham. "I've got to find a way we all can get in the lineup together, and by no means do I feel like Tim needs to not be playing. Tim needs to play. He's a young player in this game. He's going to have a great career. He had a great year last year, and I feel like we're going to have to figure out a way where we all can play together, and I feel like the best lineup will be out there."