Manager Gary Allenson describes him as having “ice water in his veins.”
That’s not surprising when you read over Raul Valdes’ biography. He needed ice water in his veins to merely have the opportunity to play professional baseball in the United States.
The first five attempts Valdes made at defecting from Cuba failed. He finally succeeded on his sixth attempt, defecting to the Dominican Republic. From there, Valdes signed with the Chicago Cubs in 2005 and began his pro baseball odyssey.
On Thursday afternoon he was stellar in a spot start for the Buffalo Bisons. Valdes shut out the top-hitting club in the International League for seven innings, pacing the Herd to a 3-1 win over the Syracuse Chiefs in front of 9,583 at Coca-Cola Field.
He scattered three hits, issued just one walk and struck out five to earn his fourth win of the season.
“He’s been so consistent for us, throwing strikes since he got here and joined the club,” said catcher Mike Nickeas. “So it’s not really a big surprise that his command was great. I thought his velocity might have been a little better today than it has been. I mean he was crushing those guys inside today. We worked a lot on the inner half and he did a great job.”
Nickeas has caught Valdes before, back in 2010 when they were both with the New York Mets organization. That was the last time Valdes came through Buffalo and the year he made his big-league debut.
He then played in the St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies organizations. Last October, he was claimed off waivers by the Houston Astros. He began the 2014 season with Triple-A Oklahoma City then was traded to the Blue Jays for future considerations on May 19.
The Blue Jays assigned the 36-year-old lefty to Buffalo and since then he has been an all-purpose member of the pitching staff.
Valdes has spent most of his time as a reliever, but has now made five spot starts. He’s 2-2 as a starter with Thursday’s seven innings his longest outing of the season.
“Invaluable,” Allenson said. “To be a swing guy like that, especially with doubleheaders and call-ups and stuff like that. To go out there and spot start against a club with the best record in the league and shut them out for seven is obviously pretty good.”
“It’s really impressive because there’s not many guys who can do what he’s done,” Nickeas said. “He’s a veteran guy. He’s just great at getting in and throwing pitches and pitching to contact. Just exceptional stuff today. … He forced them to swing the bat and it wasn’t really over the middle of the plate hardly at all. It would go from the outside to the inside or he would throw a breaking ball or throw a change-up.”
The Herd took a 1-0 lead in the third on a home run from Ryan Schimpf. They added two more in the fifth when Syracuse outfielder Eury Perez misplayed a hit from Darin Mastroianni in center. That pushed Jonathan Diaz home and the error allowed Mastroianni to land on third. A sacrifice to right by Kevin Pillar scored Mastroianni and gave the Herd a 3-0 lead.
Bobby Korecky picked up his 14th save but not before surrendering a home run in the ninth inning to spoil the shutout bid.
The homestand continues tonight (7:05 p.m., Radio 1520 AM) as the Herd opens a four-game series with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. P.J. Walters (2-2, 5.01) is scheduled to start for the Herd against Jason Marquis (1-0, 2.22).
Denny McLain will hold an autograph session and throw out the ceremonial first pitch when the Bisons host the IronPigs Monday.
McLain is the last 30-game winner in Major League Baseball. He pitched in parts of 10 seasons in the Major Leagues, including eight years with the Detroit Tigers from 1963 to 1970. The three-time American League All-Star won back-to-back Cy Young Awards in 1968 and 1969.
He was also named the American League MVP for the 1968 season after going 31-6 with a 1.96 ERA. No pitcher has won 30 games in a single season since McLain.
Overall, McLain was 131-91 with a 3.39 ERA in 280 career major league games.
McLain will sign autographs for Bisons fans beginning at 6 p.m. through the second inning. Bisons fans will receive a voucher at the gates that can be redeemed for the autograph.
The Free Movie Night returns to Coca-Cola Field on Thursday, Aug. 7, with a screening of the movie “Frozen.”
The movie, which will be shown on the BisonsTV HD Scoreboard, begins at 7 p.m. with the gates opening at 6 p.m.
It is the fourth straight year the Bisons are hosting a free movie for families and fans.
There will be no charge, and fans may sit on the first base side of Coca-Cola Field or bring a blanket to sit on the field and watch the movie. Concessions will be available, and limited free parking will be at the Bisons’ Exchange Street lot.