2006-08-18 / Sports

A Second Life At Plate Pays Dividends for Valentin

By Joe McDonald Sports Columnist

Jose Valentin. Photo By Pete Borriello
Jose Valentin. Photo By Pete Borriello FLUSHING, NY - It was a learning experience for Jose Valentin. After years of being a starter for the Brewers and White Sox, the veteran infielder found himself in the role of bench player for the Mets when this season started.

And because of his new position, Valentin had to do some soul searching. He figured out that the all or nothing power hitter in the American League wouldn't cut it on the Mets bench.

"Coming off the bench, you are only going to get one shot, so you can't afford to swing for the fences," Valentin said. "I was in that situation, so I had to be a contact hitter. I had to get on base. I started working on that situation and made adjustment and here I am - a better hitter."

The infielder cut down on his swing, which allowed him to hit the other way. That eventually get him the starting job at second base and allowed him to hit for a higher batting average [.284 - a full 40 point above his career average], while maintaining his production [12 home runs with 49 RBI]. Also, the 36 year-old has hit from the right side this season [a .270 clip] and that was always his weak side.

"I just realized to be a better player, I not only had to hit for power, but put a solid swing on it and get a good result," Valentin said. "I didn't need to hit for power, but get hits. This year, I tried to be a better hitter. I cut my swing a little bit more and use the whole field. I am not going in there and swing at everything. The reason is just the maturity that I have - 13 years in this business."

Valentin said one reason why he tried to swing for the fences in Milwaukee and Chicago was the team around him. With star players like Milwaukee' star players Robin Yount, and Greg Vaughn along with White Sox sluggers Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Lee as his teammates, the infielder tried to emulate them as power hitters and went up to the plate looking for a pitch to pull.

But with the Mets, the lineup is filled with line drive hitters, who happen to hit for power. He worked with Carlos Beltran and Julio Franco on the new approach and also sought the advice of hitting coach Rick Down. "I had to go for it and work on it," he said. "I just needed to get myself to get better. I went to [Down] and guys like Franco. I have never been on a team where they hit so much. They go into the cage during batting practice. They do what they have to do, so I had to do it too." Down credits Valentin for his newfound approach to the plate.

"Sometimes you realize your role and make an assessment, given the opportunity. He's healthy and got the opportunity to play everyday. He's very intelligent on how he plays."

Those smarts also translate in the field. A shortstop for most of his career, the infielder made an effortless adjustment to second base, which he considered his worst position. It took time and practice, but now he is an asset in the field.

He said the toughest thing for him is to turn the double play, since his back is facing the runner, but because of his shortstop experience, Valentin is able to cheat towards first and help Carlos Delgado on ground balls.

"When you have been playing in the infield your whole career, you got the right idea," Valentin said. "When you play [second] day after day, you get used to the field and used to the hitters. I played against those hitters, but on the other side of the field. I get some ground balls everyday with Sandy [Alomar]. I get more comfortable. I now I feel like I have been there forever." And because of his hard work and soul searching, Valentin has helped the Mets to their current 14 game lead in the National League East.

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