John Valentin has bounced around the Boston infield like so many of his doubles off Fenway Park’s left-field wall. Since September, he has switched from shortstop to third base to second and now back to third.
His next move could be to another team.
A trade from the lowly Red Sox to a contender would be the latest upheaval for one of baseball’s top hitting infielders who struggled at the plate early and stayed in the lineup despite a wrist injury.
“He’s one of the most mentally tough people that we have on this team,” said first baseman Mo Vaughn, who has played with Valentin since they were college teammates at Seton Hall. “If a trade happens, I’m happy for him.”
Valentin was upset about being moved to third last September when Tim Naehring was out with a sore knee. So he asked to be traded. But he was still Boston’s shortstop in spring training.
Until March 8.
That’s when he was told to move to second base to make room for prize prospect Nomar Garciaparra. He didn’t like it and stayed away from training camp for two days.
He eventually adjusted to his new position but hit just .160 through April. Since then, he hit .357 to raise his average to .301 before going 0 for 5 in a 4-1 victory at Baltimore on Wednesday night. And his 28 doubles were second-most in the American League.
“When you’re not getting any hits, you kind of press,” Valentin said. “I told myself to throw the first month away and move on and I did that.”
But just as his hitting and fielding were both going well, it was time for another shakeup. Naehring went out with a sore elbow and Jeff Frye took over at third on June 24.
But Frye is better at second, so Valentin, who had played all 79 games at second, moved back to third last Saturday. The throws are different and so is the way the ball comes off the bat. Valentin struggled with his throwing, making two errors in his first game at third.
“I wasn’t going to make him go to third base, especially after what he’d been through to get the adjustment and finally feel comfortable at second,” manager Jimy Williams said. “He has a lot of courage. He’s helping this team a lot.”
Valentin said “anything that’s new and different is going to take time,” but he’s improved at third since that first game. And he hasn’t griped about the move.
His versatility combined with his hot hitting make him an even more desirable commodity for a team striving for the playoffs. The Red Sox can trade him until July 31 without having to put him on waivers.
“He’s doing a great job. We’re not focused on trading his contract,” general manager Dan Duquette said.