Third baseman entered Monday batting .347 since returning from DL on May 6
By Mark Chiarelli
OAKLAND -- It's rare for a middle-of-the order bat to become available midseason, and even more unique when that player is available to the entire league. But that's what Danny Valencia encountered when the Blue Jays designated him for assignment last August.
Of course, to that point, Valencia wasn't a lineup mainstay or even an everyday player, having played primarly in a platoon role for five teams since 2010. But the A's, who emphasize versatility and have long searched for value in areas opposing teams have not, gave Valencia a chance, signing and immediately starting him at third base.
The 31-year-old has hit .290 since joining the A's, hitting 18 homers while posting a .529 slugging percentage in 80 games. He's remained a starter, customarily batting as the team's cleanup hitter and has a favorable value, remaining under team control for two more years.
Valencia, who has gotten the chance to play every day in Oakland, said it all comes down to opportunity.
"It really does," he said. "People get lost in that. It's easy to label a guy early. Guys get better. Because you struggled one year doesn't mean four years later that you haven't made the adjustments and gotten better as a player to warrant another opportunity to come your way and try to make the most of it."
Entering play Monday, Valencia was hitting .347 with seven homers in 19 games since coming off the DL on May 6. He said he's struggled recently -- he endured a 4-for-31 (.129) stretch over eight games -- but went 3-for-4 in each of the A's wins over the Tigers to lift his average to .325. Now, he faces the Minnesota Twins, with whom he broke into the Majors in 2010 before being traded to the Red Sox in 2012.
The biggest difference for Valencia, who is a career. 242 hitter against righties, is a stark improvement in that area. Between 2011 and 2014 against righties, he never hit above .224. But entering Monday's game, he's hit .291 against righties since 2015 and has seen his power numbers surge, posting a slugging percentage (.513) over that stretch that's 122 points higher than his career total against righties (.391).
"It was something before he came over here that he was pretty adamant about getting better at," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "For the most part, he was a platoon guy up until that point. But since he's been here he's made his own reps and done well against righties to where we have him in the four-hole almost every day."
Melvin said Valencia is using the opposite field more against righties. Valencia ultimately credited his marked improvement to simply finding an organization that believed in him.
"It was really tough," Valencia said. "I never got consistent at-bats against righties. It was obviously a little bit tougher to get in a groove against them. Now that I get to play against them, I feel I hold my own. It's hard to go in there sporadically and play at this level and be successful. The more you're in there the better you'll feel. Anybody who knows the game knows how difficult it is, and I was happy they gave me the opportunity."
Mark Chiarelli is a reporter for MLB.com based in Oakland. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.