Valenzuela’s Time With the Angels Is Up : Baseball: Left-hander’s final start with triple-A Edmonton is Monday. He will return to L.A. to await offers from other teams.
The end of the road, which took Fernando Valenzuela from the ramshackle stadiums of his native Mexico to glory with the Dodgers and on to the Angels, looms Monday at Cheney Field. Certainly, his start against the Tacoma Tigers will mark the end of Valenzuela’s brief Angel career.
Valenzuela will make one last start for the triple-A Edmonton Trappers Monday, a month after he signed a minor league contract with a provision that made him a free agent if he hadn’t been promoted within 30 days. Despite a 1-3 record and 6.35 earned-run average, Valenzuela says he feels stronger with each start and that “all my stuff is working fine.” But the 30-year-old left-hander is not in the Angels’ plans.
“You ask me right now, I’d have to say he’d have some problems getting big league hitters out,” Edmonton Manager Max Oliveras said Saturday. “But there’s no doubt in my mind his arm is healthy. It’s a matter of adjustments . . . All I can say is for him to pitch in the big leagues, he has to improve his location. He didn’t pitch for a long time. There’s no doubt in my mind he can put people in the stands.”
That was never a problem while he wore an Angel uniform. Putting zeroes on the scoreboard was.
Signed by the Angels in May and promoted to the starting rotation in June, Valenzuela made two starts, June 7 against Detroit and June 12 against Milwaukee. He drew more than 80,000 to Anaheim Stadium for those games, but lasted only five innings against the Tigers and 1 2/3 against the Brewers, losing both and compiling a 12.15 ERA.
A heart problem detected during routine tests put him on the disabled list June 13, and his refusal to go to the minor leagues for a rehabilitation term longer than 20 days led to his release. He was re-signed to a minor league contract in mid-July and sent to double-A Midland before being moved to Edmonton.
Although the Angels have said he’s welcome to remain with the Trappers as long as he wants, Valenzuela said he will return to Los Angeles this week and wait for a chance to start elsewhere.
“I needed to get strong, and I pitched eight games (in the minor leagues),” Valenzuela said Saturday. “I don’t think I need more than that. I want to see my family. We have a limit of next Monday and I (did) what they wanted me to do, go to the minor leagues and pitch. Now, it’s my turn to make a decision.
“I expect (to hear from other teams). If nothing comes up, we’ll wait until the off-season and go to any team next spring.”
Valenzuela’s statistics are not impressive. He has given up 16 earned runs in 22 2/3 innings, walked 10, struck out 26 and yielded six home runs.
“But I’m releasing the ball a lot better and I have more control,” he said. “My arm is good. That’s not the problem. The problem is I haven’t been throwing enough. I don’t look at records. I gave up five runs in the last two games but I feel good. My stuff is working fine. My fastball is a little wild but I have a lot of strikeouts and I’m improving a lot. I just have to keep throwing.”
Gary Ruby, Edmonton’s pitching coach, said Valenzuela “has had some shaky innings, but he’s had some positive signs. Over the last few starts we’ve seen an increase in his velocity to 86, 87 miles per hour and he’s worked very hard since he’s been here. He’s been a big help to us.”
The small minor league ballparks have been no help to him, Oliveras contended. “He gave up back-to-back home runs (in Calgary last Wednesday) but one of those home runs was a routine fly ball. No way it’s a home run in the big leagues,” Oliveras said. “The second home run was legitimate . . . If he can’t throw his screwball for strikes, he runs into problems. But there’s no doubt in my mind his arm is healthy.”
But that may no longer be enough for Valenzuela, who was 13-13 last season and threw a no-hitter against the St. Louis Cardinals about a year ago. He has no regrets over his sojourn with the Angels, but he also has no intention of quitting.
“It was really hard in two games to prove anything,” he said. “Then I was on the disabled list. Fortunately, nothing was wrong, but I lost five weeks right there and I had to start all over. That’s tough to do. I’m working hard here and Gary Ruby helped me a lot, working on my mechanics a little bit. Every game I feel a lot better . . .
“I don’t have any hard feelings toward anybody (on the Angels). I did my part already and now I just have to wait to see what happens. They released me once before. That’s part of the game. Now I’ll just go home and wait.”