Successful spot start ‘very emotional’ for Blue Jays’ Valdez

Cesar Valdez didn't pitch at the MLB level between 2010 and 2017 (Mark Blinch/CP)

TORONTO – For the Toronto Blue Jays, a successful spot start from a recent waiver claim offered welcome relief for a much-used bullpen Tuesday.

For Cesar Valdez, a second win as a big-leaguer meant something more. It adds significance to the seven seasons he pitched following his first big-league win, earned as a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2010, and it validates the faith his late father had in him when the majors seemed furthest away.

“He was always the guy that would push me and drive me to stay in baseball,” an emotional Valdez said through interpreter Josue Peley. “Everything I do now it’s on his name. When I win, when I’m in the big leagues, when I pitch—everything I do it’s for him. He keeps me driving even if he’s not with us anymore.”

Valdez’s father passed away in 2015, a year the Dominican right-hander spent pitching for the Olmecas de Tabasco of the Mexican League. Two seasons later, he’s back in MLB. And after a career-high six innings pitched against the Oakland Athletics Wednesday in a 4-1 Toronto victory, he walked off the mound as 40,624 Blue Jays fans stood and applauded.

“It was very emotional,” Valdez said. “I’ve played everywhere. I’ve been everywhere. In the big leagues, in the minor leagues. Coming off of the mound today and having the fans screaming was really nice.”

Blue Jays decision makers would surely agree. They claimed Valdez from the Athletics in May, at which point he had a 9.64 ERA in his first big-league action since 2010. Hopes were still high for the Blue Jays’ 2017 chances back then, so the notion that Valdez would ever figure into the rotation would have seemed farfetched.

Now, the Blue Jays are stretched thin enough in the rotation that they’re turning to Valdez. He responded by completing six innings and allowing just one run on five hits while striking out four and walking one.

“He was terrific, he really was,” manager John Gibbons said. “You couldn’t ask for a better outing. Good for him. He’s been grinding it out over the years. Those things you feel that much better about.”

Valdez’s opportunity initially emerged because Aaron Sanchez required a fourth stint on the disabled list due to ongoing blister issues. While the Blue Jays continue working with Sanchez to heal his troublesome right middle finger, there’s still no set date for his return.

Plus, the July 31 trade deadline’s now less than a week away, and the Blue Jays are entertaining offers for starters Marco Estrada and Francisco Liriano. The chances that at least one of those starters gets traded appear good, and it’s possible both are moved.

All things considered, the Blue Jays could need more starts for Valdez. The 32-year-old doesn’t throw particularly hard, with an average fastball velocity of 88.3 mph, but he pitched to a 3.23 ERA at triple-A Buffalo with nearly four times as many strikeouts as walks. After beating the Athletics Tuesday, he made it clear that he hopes to continue starting at the MLB level.

“I’m just glad that the Blue Jays gave me the opportunity to be back in the big leagues,” he said. “I hope to get a chance again and get a win again.”

Regardless of whether he stays in the rotation, he has already added to a long journey in professional baseball with the best outing of his big-league career.

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