Breyvic Valera has made just six starts with the Orioles, and he entered Thursday night’s start against the Oakland Athletics just 4-for-17 with the big league club, but it’s contributions like the ones he made in the 5-3 win that will draw notice as he attempts to carve his own niche on the team’s roster of the future.
Valera recorded an RBI single in the fourth inning, but it was the diving catch he made in shallow right field in the ninth inning that truly helped preserve the victory.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter said the team will take a long look at Valera, the only one of the five players acquired in the Manny Machado trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers to play for the Orioles at the major league level this season. The team has seen him at second and wants to see more of him at shortstop as well at the plate to gauge his promise as a utility infielder — or maybe more.
“Opportunities are so hard to get at the big league level,” Valera said through interpreter Ramón Alarcón. Whenever there’s an opportunity, I try to make the most of it, try to take advantage of the situation, the trust that the team puts on me. Make a play, help the team, so that's what going through my mind and I was able to do that today.
The sample size that September will offer won’t be much, especially as the team has to evaluate a flurry of players over the final 16 games remaining this season. So that makes defensive plays like his ninth-inning grab stand out.
With the Orioles holding a two-run lead in the ninth, and a runner on first with one out after Mychal Givens issued a leadoff walk, A’s outfielder Ramón Laureano lifted a fly ball to shallow right that seemed destined to fall for a hit among three fielders before Valera made a lunging play as he reached the right-field foul line.
“When you go through periods [like this],” Showalter said, “and it seems like it's been quite a while, [there is] a pop-up in a key situation that goes out of play by this much behind the screen and then the ball leaves the bat and you're expecting it to be a duck flare, and he comes out of [almost] nowhere.”
The play changed the tempo of the inning. If the ball falls, Givens is in trouble, runners at first and third with one out and the go-ahead run at the plate. Instead, Givens had just one out left to convert his seventh save, and he did so by inducing an game-ending groundout to shortstop.
“So many things going through my mind, last inning, winning by two, man on first,” Valera said. “My mentality from the get-go was to go get it, to catch the ball, make one out. So I was prepared mentally for it and thankfully I was able to get it, to catch the ball.”
His major league sample size isn’t enough to be able to draw true evaluations, but the switch-hitting Valera is a career .299 hitter in the minors, and hits particularly well against left-handed pitching. This year, he hit .318 hitting right-handed against lefties.
“One thing about Breyvic, he's got a history of hitting,” Showalter said. “Look at his track record in the minor leagues, especially right-handed, he's hit everywhere but the big leagues for the most part.”
Said Valera: “I see it as an opportunity. Unfortunately this season, the record may not be the best but every day you are still try to go out there to help your team, do the best that you can. Just help the team win, whatever it takes.”