Amid all the injuries and illnesses the Minnesota Twins have endured this season, Danny Valencia has been a rare constant in the lineup.
Valencia, in his second year with the Twins, has been in the lineup for every game Minnesota has played this season — 52 starts through Monday's game against Detroit. He's one of just three Twins players to appear in 50 or more games. Jason Kubel has also played in all 52, but did not start in two of those games. And Denard Span has played in 51 of 52 games, including 50 starts.
With so many players making trips to the disabled list, Gardenhire has not had to worry about plugging the second-year third baseman into the lineup every day.
"Danny likes to be out there," Gardenhire said. "Him and I think (Kubel) played pretty much every day. … They're getting it done, so it's hard for me to take those two out of the lineup."
Kubel was injured in Monday's game and is day-to-day with a sprained left foot. Valencia, meanwhile, continues to stay healthy.
Knock on wood.
"The offseason, I worked hard to try to prevent injuries," Valencia said. "I've been beat up a little bit, getting tired here and there. But I'm here to play; I'm here to help the team. I feel it's best for me to be out there and play every day."
Valencia made his major league debut last June. From that point, he's been Minnesota's every-day third baseman, filling a position that hasn't seen consistency in years. As a rookie in 2010, Valencia batted .311 with a .448 slugging percentage and 40 RBIs in 85 games. Those numbers helped him finish third in the American League Rookie of the Year voting.
A year later, Valencia's average has dipped to .230, but he's been one of the more productive hitters on the Twins — his 25 RBIs are second-most behind Kubel's 29, and he's tied for the team lead in home runs (5) with Kubel and Michael Cuddyer.
"This year, it's been tougher with scouting reports. I feel pretty good with where I'm at," Valencia said of the difference from his rookie year to this season. "Obviously I'd like to be hitting for a higher average, but production's been pretty good. A couple balls will fall for me and I think I'll be alright."
"We need his bat in the lineup," Gardenhire said. "Average-wise, it's not been great yet to this point, but if you look at production, he's driving in runs. He's knocking in some runs. You've got to keep him out there."
Valencia has also shown a knack for coming up with clutch hits, including a handful of game-winners in his two seasons. The latest came Saturday, as his 10th-inning single drove in the lone run of Minnesota's 1-0 win against the Angels.
"Danny seems to come up with some big hits," Gardenhire said.
While Valencia's hitting is still a work in progress, so too is his fielding. In 223 defensive chances in the field last season, Valencia committed six errors — a .973 fielding percentage. In 129 chances this year, he's already had five errors.
Gardenhire said he's trying to get Valencia to rely less on his strong arm and instead work on his foot positioning to have easier throws to first base.
"I think with Danny, he has a certain style. He's not one of these attack guys at third. He relies a lot on his arm," Gardenhire said. "We're constantly telling him, if he'll just go get the ball a little bit more, a little more movement, he could not have to rely on that arm all the time to wind up. Just get to the ball a little quicker, use your feet, shorten the distance and make a little easier throw."
Still, Gardenhire can take solace in the fact that Valencia hasn't missed a game, providing some stability to a shaky infield. Second baseman Tsuyohsi Nishioka has been out since the first week of the season with a broken leg. Alexi Casilla has rotated between shortstop and second base. First baseman Justin Morneau missed time with the flu, and continues to battle back from a concussion he suffered last season.
But besides the normal wear and tear of a baseball season, Valencia said he's feeling healthy.
"You get tired. Everybody gets fatigued from playing every day," he said. "I'm just going out there and trying to help the team win, being a serviceable player."