Pat Valaika had a tough 28-game stretch with the Albuquerque Isotopes last season, save for one contest back on August 22 against Fresno.
Valaika hit for the cycle that game, the sixth in Isotopes history and second of the season after Tom Murphy had done it earlier.
After his team mustered just three hits in a loss on Friday night, Valaika went cycling again, completing the feat by his fourth at-bat in the fifth inning of the Isotopes’ 12-5 victory over the visiting Salt Lake Bees.
“It was a good day,” Valaika said. “I didn’t do anything different than I have been doing. I got my pitch and tonight I didn’t miss my pitch. I was just fortunate they fell and I hit them in good spots.”
Valaika ripped an RBI double to right field in the first inning to put Albuquerque (2-1) ahead after Raimel Tapia had led off with a single to center. Valaika advanced to third on a groundout and then scored on a wild pitch before Noel Cuevas hit a solo home run for a 3-0 lead.
In the second inning, Valaika crushed a towering three-run homer to left field.
In the fourth inning, Valaika smoked a bases-clearing triple into the right-center gap. He then scored on another wild pitch to make it 10-3.
In the fifth inning, Valaika did not get to drive in a run, but he did bloop an opposite-field single to shallow right field to complete the cycle.
“I knew I needed to hit a single, but I don’t know many guys who go up there and just try to hit singles,” Valaika said. “I kind of figured if I hit a single, I hit a single, if I hit a double, that’s cool, too.”
The Bees (1-2) did not retire Valaika until the seventh inning, when center fielder Shane Robinson had to make a running, underhand catch of a looping liner to center.
“It’s very good to see him make solid contact,” manager Glenallen Hill said of Valaika. “That home run, it was with two strikes, he hit a hanging breaking ball.”
Throw in plenty of sparkling defense at shortstop, and Valaika had quite the night.
“That’s probably where most of my innings have been played in my career, so I’m comfortable there,” he said. “I’m comfortable at pretty much all four (infield) spots. I played a lot of third base in spring training, so it’s nice to get a lot more comfortable there. I think the plan is to still move around.”
In terms of Triple-A appearances, Valaika’s cycles came 17 games apart.
“I think he has the ability to stay in the moment and his energy is the same on a daily basis, so that helps his consistency,” Hill said.
The rest of the Isotopes did their part with the bats, too, racking up an additional 12 hits. Cuevas went 3-for-4, while Tapia, Rafael Ynoa and Mike Tauchman had two hits apiece. Tauchman extended his hitting streak to 27 games with a third inning single.
“We had a good day of preparation today all around,” Hill said. “They had a lot of energy and excitement and I think that carried over into the game.”
Zach Jemiola earned his first Triple-A win despite allowing five runs on nine hits and two walks while striking out three in 5.2 innings.
“I saw he was aggressive up until the fourth inning and in the fourth inning he had a couple of at-bats where he pitched soft and got away from his game a little bit,” Hill said. “But he has such a competitive nature that he was able to right the ship, make the adjustments and give us a couple more innings.”
Albuquerque native Austin House also made his season debut, sandwiching two strikeouts around a weak groundout to shortstop.
“Well, he’s always impressed me with his ability to attack the zone,” Hill said.
The Isotopes will look to clinch a series victory today at 1:35 p.m. Lefty Harrison Musgrave gets the nod against right-hander Drew Gagnon.