In the ninth inning of Sunday’s 7-2 loss to the Twins at JetBlue Park, Red Sox minor-league pitcher Jordan DiValerio appeared in a Grapefruit League game for the first time in his professional career.
DiValerio struck out the first batter he faced in Kala’i Rosario and then issued a walk to Dalton Kelly. But the right-hander escaped any further damage and held the Twins scoreless by getting Ernie Yake to ground into an inning-ending, 4-6-3 double play.
“I didn’t know I was going in until the phone rang and they said, ‘DiValerio, you got it.’ I was like, ‘Alright, here we go,'” DiValerio told WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford. “In the locker room, after, was when it hit me. It was a big moment, but you have to play it off as it is just another game.”
Beyond the fact that he got to pitch in a major-league spring training game for the first time, DiValerio also worked in relief of Red Sox starter Chris Sale, who helped recruit him to the organization a little less than three years ago.
When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the 2020 college baseball season to come to a screeching halt that March, DiValerio was in the midst of his senior season at St. Joseph’s University. The Philadelphia-area native had posted a 2.38 ERA in his first four starts (22 2/3 innings) for the Hawks that spring, but his chances of getting drafted became slim once the 2020 amateur draft was reduced to just five rounds.
As such, DiValerio became an undrafted free agent that June. Because the signing bonus for these players was capped at $20,000, there was not much teams could do to separate themselves in the recruiting process. DiValerio experienced that firsthand, but the Red Sox found a way to stand out by getting Sale involved.
“It was honestly incredible,” DiValerio said in regards to his over-the-phone conversation with Sale. “Just knowing they would have their ace, their No. 1 guy, give me a call, it just meant so much. It showed me they cared and wanted me here.
“I was in my apartment, got a call and they were like, ‘Hey, just letting you know, Chris Sale is going to call you soon,'” DiValerio recalled. “I was like, ‘OK, whatever.’ I thought they were joking around. Then I get this random phone call, pick up and he was like, ‘Hey, Jordan, it’s Chris.’ I was like, ‘Alright.’
“I just talked to him a little bit and he told me how much of a family the Red Sox were,” he continued. “Everybody fits in. It doesn’t matter if you’re a minor-leaguer or a big-leaguer. That’s exactly how I felt going into the dugout [on Sunday]. Everybody was saying, ‘Good job’ and giving me high-fives. Guys I have never talked to before said, ‘Good job!'”
By the time DiValerio got into Sunday’s game, Sale had already pitched five innings, fulfilled his media obligations, and headed home. Still, to share the same box score with Sale was “definitely a big deal” for DiValerio, who has yet to bring up the aforementioned phone call in the few instances he has bumped into the lefty at the Fenway South complex.
“We met a couple of times, but I haven’t brought up the phone call,” DiValerio said with a laugh. “I feel like it’s weird.”
DiValerio, 25, spent the majority of the 2022 season with High-A Greenville, posting a 5.32 ERA — but much more respectable 4.38 xFIP — with 67 strikeouts to 15 walks over 29 relief appearances (67 2/3 innings) for the Drive. Of the 74 pitchers in the South Atlantic League who accrued 60 or more innings last year, DiValerio ranked fifth in walks per nine innings (2.00), fifth in walk rate (5.0 percent), and 11th in swinging-strike rate (15.6 percent), per FanGraphs.
Listed at 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, DiValerio throws from a three-quarters arm slot and operates with a four-pitch mix that consists of an 89-91 mph that tops out at 94 mph, a 77-79 mph curveball, a 78-80 mph changeup/splitter, and an 82-84 mph slider, according to his SoxProspects.com scouting report.
DiValerio, who does not turn 26 until October, is projected by SoxProspects.com to return to Greenville for the start of the 2023 minor-league season. With that being said, it is certainly possible DiValerio earns a promotion to Double-A Portland at some point this year if he continues to make strides with the Drive.
(Picture of Jordan DiValerio: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)