Valentin tosses shutout behind Red hot TKR 12U bats

By DN WRITING STAFF | May 4, 2024

J.J. Adone hit an RBI double in the fourth inning for the TKR Reds.

By Rich Bevensee

Making its first trip to Diamond Nation this spring called for making a statement for the Tom Kain Recruiting Reds 12U squad.

And making a statement meant throwing big lefty A.J. Valentin in the opening pool play game of the Spring Classic.

Valentin was dominant as expected, allowing just three baserunners over four innings while striking out six to lead the Reds to a 10-0, mercy-rule victory over Ridgewood Raiders Maroon on Friday evening at ‘The Nation’ in Flemington.

“He’s been good for us all spring so far, and I knew pitching him in Game 1 meant we’d have a good chance to win and get a good seed,” said coach Tom Kain, whose program trains in Staten Island. “We’ve played some Perfect Game events and some USABL but we love being back here and we’d like to win the whole thing.”

Valentin allowed two hits and one walk while notching his first shutout in his fifth start of the season.

“I was focused on being consistent and throwing strikes,” Valentin said. “It felt good knowing they couldn’t get on base that much – they weren’t really touching it – so I was like, keep doing what you’re doing.”

Valentin was asked if making his debut at Diamond Nation helped get the motivational juices flowing.

“It felt good to be back on the field here,” he said. “A lot of stuff is cool here. I like the fields, the fans, the dugouts. I love playing here.”

Kain said the Reds have enjoyed moderate success so far this spring, never really being out of a game, with only a couple extra-inning losses to dampen the start.

A.J. Valentin pitched a two-hit shutout for the TKR Reds.

What he liked from Friday’s performance, aside from Valentin’s dominance, was a balanced offense that did not chase pitches outside the zone. The Reds collected six hits and also waited out 10 walks.

“I tell them to be aggressive early but I also tell them they have to swing at strikes,” Kain said. “We hit the ball a little bit today but I’d like to see more balls in the gap against the stronger teams here.”

The Raiders got a runner in scoring position in the top of the first inning when Jonathan Geller singled and stole second but Valentin stranded him there with a groundout and strikeout.

The Reds took the lead in the bottom of the first when cleanup hitter Joe Barnabe singled home leadoff man Nick Turturo with two out.

The Raiders threatened to tie the game in the second when Yunmo Yang walked and eventually reached third, but he, too, was stranded in scoring position when Valentin struck out the next three batters.

“What he does well is throw first pitch strikes. He gets ahead in the count and he battles,” Kain said. “Throwing first-pitch strikes is everything. If you can throw strikes at this age you’re basically set.”

The Reds padded their lead in the second with a three-run rally thanks to a base hit and two fielding errors. Joe Gazza, Dan Silverstein (who collected the base hit) and J.J. Adone all scored in the inning.

The bottom of the fourth was when the Reds broke open the game, scoring six runs on three hits, five walks and an error. Adone cracked an RBI double to get the Reds going, Dante Agostino had an RBI single, Turturo walked to force a run, Ryan Althoff drilled a two-run double and Barnabe was the second Red to force in a run with a walk.

While Valentin was watching his teammates provide him some offense, he was thinking about getting even sharper in his next outing.

“I’d like to do better in getting ahead in counts and making pitches in 0-2 counts,” he said. “I have to remember not to throw randomly – don’t throw a four pitch walk to the last batter. Be consistent.”

Later on Friday evening the Reds were blitzed, 11-1, by Rucci Baseball Carolina. The Reds close out pool play against the N.J. Nationals on Saturday at 6:30 p.m.

Ridgewood suffered another pool play loss on Friday, bowing to the Nationals, 18-1. The Raiders’ final pool play game is Saturday at 6:30 p.m. against Rucci Baseball.

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