Mustangs' Valiquette working well out of bullpen
By MIKE SCHERTING
Of The Gazette Staff
Relieving seems to suit Phil Valiquette just fine.
For two seasons, the Cincinnati Reds have tried to make a starter out of their 2004 7th-round draft choice, but with little success.
Drafted out of Edouard Montpetit High School in Montreal, the 6-foot left-hander just couldn't find his stride. In two stops at Class A Dayton and a brief stint in Billings in 2005, Valiquette was 6-10 with a 6.69 ERA in 38 games, 28 of them starts.
This season Valiquette has been used exclusively as the second pitcher in the tandem with starter Enerio Del Rosario, and he's responded with his best season so far. Though he took the loss Monday, Valiquette has a 1.45 ERA in 18 2/3 innings, and he's allowed just 10 hits and has struck out 15. Even after rising from 1.20 after Monday's loss, Valiquette's ERA still ranks among the Pioneer League's best.
"He trusts his ability versus trying to pitch to the hitters' weaknesses," said Mustangs manager Joe Kruzel. "He's got an electric arm a little bit and he's challenging the hitters. He's forcing them to hit his best stuff instead of trying to trick them."
Though Valiquette couldn't say if he's better suited for starting or relieving, he did say he enjoys the role of reliever and that he believes he has the mentality for it.
"Wherever they put me, I'll do my job," he said. "I'll do the best I can to try and get guys out."
Valiquette said he worked hard with Mustangs pitching coach Pete Magre and Gulf Coast League Reds pitching coach Rigo Beltran during extended spring training in Florida, and it's paying dividends now.
"I tried to get my delivery more consistent to the point that all my pitches were consistent, so I could throw strikes with all my pitches," Valiquette said. "I just try to keep the same mind-set every game and work hard in between outings."
Valiquette said he's talked with fellow Canadian and Texas Rangers reliever Eric Gagne about closing and that Valiquette could see that role in his future.
"We kind of have the same mentality in just trying to go out there and finish the game," said Valiquette, who routinely hits between 92 and 94 mph and up to 96 mph on the radar gun.
Then, he shrugged and added with a smile: "But the thing is, I like to pitch more than one inning."
Finally a rest
After playing 21 straight days, teams are off today, the first of only five scheduled days off.
For the Mustangs, it couldn't come at a better time. They entered Monday night's game in Helena against the Brewers having lost eight of their past 10 games, and Kruzel said before the game that the break will be a welcome one.
"More mentally than anything," he said. "It's a good situation, especially with the rough stretch we've gone through. A lot of these kids, especially the ones from extended spring training, have been going since March. This will be a good day to rest mentally and rest some nagging injuries, give them a day off and let them refresh."
The Mustangs resume their schedule Wednesday with the start of a seven-game homestand. The Orem Owlz are in for three games before the Ogden Raptors come in for four.
Lights, camera, action
Documentary filmmaker Craig Lindvahl and a crew will be at Cobb Field this week to shoot footage for a film about a day in the life of the historic ballpark.
Lindvahl said he expects the film to premier during the summer of 2008. The idea for the film came when he attended a game in Idaho Falls last summer. When he asked around about a good location for a film on the Pioneer League and minor league baseball, the answer that most came back was Billings.
"If you want to have a true baseball experience, that's where you go," Lindvahl said he was told.
The crew will use four cameras to film before, during and after the games on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday when the Mustangs play the Owlz.
Lindvahl has won nine Mid America Emmy Awards for producing, writing, camera work and composing. His television work has been seen on PBS, NBC, CNN and The Learning Channel.
Around the league
Orem comes to Billings as the top hitting team in the Pioneer League. Through 20 games the Owlz (11-9) had a team batting average of .312 and led the league in home runs with 21. They were also tops in runs scored with 139. ... Orem's Gordon Gronkowski (.449) and Jay Brossman (.424) were ranked second and third, respectively, in batting. ... Ogden's Paul Coleman led the league in strikeouts (24) and was second in the league with a 1.50 ERA. He was tied with the Mustangs' Luis Montano with a league-leading 4-0 record.