Pat Valaika started Monday evening by catching the ceremonial first pitch from a sausage mascot. He ended his evening by scoring a run after a pinch-hit single that sparked a Colorado Rockies rally that led to a 5-2 win over the San Francisco Giants at Coors Field.
Valaika’s 1-for-1 night raised his season average to .138, proof that it’s been a rough season for a player the Rockies relied so heavily upon in 2017. Last season, He drove in 16 runs for the Rockies in a pinch-hit role, going 19-for-58 (.322) with four homers and eight doubles off the bench during the 2017 regular season.
This year, however, has been a different story. Valaika has already been sent to Triple-A Albuquerque twice to work on regaining the mojo he had in 2017. Recalled on June 23, the 25-year-old utility man has gone 2-for-5 at the plate since then … but those two hits have been big. The first? A solo shot in Colorado’s 3-1 win in Los Angeles over the Dodgers on June 29. The second? Monday night’s seventh-inning pinch hit single that lit the fuse on the Colorado rally that turned a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 advantage.
"“I feel a lot better. Just in a better place mechanically and mentally as well,” Valaika told Rox Pile and other media members inside the Rockies clubhouse on Monday night."
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Colorado manager Bud Black said Valaika’s pinch hit leading off the seventh was one of the keys to the Rockies’ series-opening win. Valaika came in to pinch hit for Kyle Freeland, who tossed another gem after giving up a leadoff home run to Gorkys Hernandez.
"“Pat, going 0 and 2 against (Madison) Bumgarner and getting a base hit, that’s a big one,” Black said. “Pat has had a rough year statistically. It’s been a tough one but he’s hung in there. He hit a big home run in L.A. to get us on the board against (Rich) Hill. He had a big hit, 0-2 against Bumgarner. These are the things we need. It’s going to take all 25 guys.”"
Valaika knows that as well. He knows he will have to continue to contribute to give the Rockies a chance at a second consecutive Rocktober appearance. Part of that is having the confidence when he steps into the batter’s box and he credits the Rockies franchise for keeping their confidence in him as well.
"“They don’t really give up on guys. That’s the great thing about this organization,” Valaika said. “They realize how tough this game can be at times but they stick with it. They’ve been very positive from day one with me. It’s been a struggle but there were things I needed to work on that were probably better suited for Triple-A than trying to work on them here.”"
Colorado needs Valaika to regain that swagger at the plate. He was a weapon for the Rockies last season and, as Colorado chases three other teams in the National League West standings, they will need all the help they can get from every player, even those who are asked to catch the ceremonial first pitch of the night.