For more than two decades, Luis Valbuena said, he has been flipping his bat. Every time the Angels infielder puts the ball into play, he immediately drops his bat with flair, sometimes spinning it. Because of that, he argued, he should be exempt from the unwritten rule violation such an action normally qualifies as.
“It just comes naturally to me,” Valbuena said.
On Wednesday, Houston Astros right-hander Mike Fiers took offense when Valbuena admired his first-inning homer and mightily flipped his bat. Fiers, Valbuena’s former teammate in Houston the previous two seasons, threw over his head the next time Valbuena batted. Afterward Fiers admitted he had done it to make his stance known.
“When you do something like that as disrespectful as he did, you’ve got to send some kind of message,” Fiers said. “I’m not trying to hit him. But something has be to said.”
On Thursday, Major League Baseball suspended Fiers for five games, which will cost him roughly $100,000. He was also fined an undisclosed amount. He declined to comment, but announced he would not appeal.
If Fiers had hit him in the body with a pitch, Valbuena said, he would have had no complaints.
“But I don’t like him throwing at my head,” Valbuena said.
Valbuena, 31, said he does not fret about pitchers’ reactions to his constant flipping of the bat. He views it as an intrinsic part of his play.
“Sometimes, guys don’t like it,” he said. “But I can’t control that. I can’t do anything about it. I’ve done it all my life. Because when I hit it, I can’t control the bat.”
Once, somewhere along his 15-year professional career, a coach asked him to stop, Valbuena recalled. He told the coach he could not.
“How about the guy who played in [Korea] and came over here?” Valbuena asked, referring to Milwaukee’s Eric Thames. “It’s the same thing. Why don’t they say anything to him? It doesn’t make any sense.”
Valbuena said he would understand Fiers’ feeling of disrespect if he flipped his bat only occasionally.
“But I do it every time,” he said. “Ground ball to the pitcher, I flip my bat. Pop fly to the catcher, bat flip. Ground ball to second base, bat flip. It’s not like I do it sometimes. I do it all the time.”
Angels manager Mike Scioscia said Fiers’ suspension stood in line with how the league has enforced previous incidents.
“The league has been pretty adamant about guys sending messages,” Scioscia said. “Obviously, he took it upon himself to send a message, and the league acted on it.”
Asked if he thought the feud was over, Valbuena said he wasn’t sure. From his perspective, it is.
“It’s in the past,” Valbuena said. “He wants me to change my game, but I can’t. Sorry.”
Follow Pedro Moura on Twitter @pedromoura