Unheralded Valaika could play key role for Rox

Pinch-hitter extraordinaire ready to step in for important at-bat

Unheralded Valaika could play key role for Rox

PHOENIX -- Rookie Pat Valaika understood why the reporter crowds largely ignored him in the Rockies' clubhouse. But if Wednesday's National League Wild Card Game is a close-and-tight classic, all eyes could be on Valaika.

Valaika, 25, a ninth-round pick from UCLA in the 2013 MLB Draft, drove in 16 runs as a pinch-hitter this year. That's the highest in the Majors for a rookie since the current rookie rule was instituted in 1958. He was 19-for-58 (.322) with four home runs and eight doubles in a pinch during the regular season.

Date Time Highlights
Oct. 4 D-backs 11, Rockies 8 WATCH

"Look at the guys who are surrounded [by reporter crowds] -- Trevor Story, Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon, Carlos Gonzalez -- those are our guys," Valaika said. "They've done it every single day. They're a huge part of why we're here. Everybody is important, but those guys are a huge part of why we're here."

But when it comes time for the big hit, it could fall to Valaika, who is 5-for-27 (.208) with a home run, three walks and six strikeouts against the D-backs in 15 games this season. The homer came when he started at third base in a 5-2 victory at Coors Field on May 7.

Valaika said his plan was to quietly study Arizona's bullpen. He is often used against lefty relievers, but Valaika said he must be prepared for anyone.

"It's got a little different feel, but I'm doing the best I can just to treat it like a game in July," Valaika said. "That's when we play our best, when we're not playing to the situation, just playing our game."

Valaika was drafted as a shortstop, but he was converted to a multiposition player in the Minors. It allowed him to tailor his thinking to a bench role.

"It's just learning what pitchers are trying to do," Valaika said. "They know what my strengths are, and they're going to attack my weaknesses. It's a bit of a cat-and-mouse game. I've tried to learn this season how pitchers are going to work against me."

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb and like his Facebook page. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.