Judge, Sanchez set to mash (8 ET, ESPN)

For Yankees duo in Derby, selecting BP pitcher for event a no-brainer

Judge, Sanchez set to mash (8 ET, ESPN)

NEW YORK -- Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez are treating tonight's T-Mobile Home Run Derby as batting practice in front of 50,000 people.

So when it came to picking their pitcher for the Derby, which will begin at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN, their normal batting-practice pitcher, Danilo Valiente, was the obvious choice.

Valiente's answer, too, was a no-brainer.

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"They approached me and asked me if I felt comfortable," Valiente said through an interpreter. "And of course, I told them, 'Yes.'"

The 51-year-old Valiente is an exceptional BP pitcher, which is a not an easy task. It isn't as simple as throwing 60-mph meatballs down the middle of the plate to Major League players to help them get loose. Instead, each of his 400-500 pitches per day has a purpose.

In pregame batting practice, hitters work on refining little mechanical flaws in their swings. They sometimes want to take extra hacks at fastballs low and away in the zone, for example, or any other pitch location they're struggling with.

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Valiente has to hit that spot on command. Then he has to pitch it there again -- and again, until that hitter is satisfied. Then he does it for the next hitter. But this time, he might have to throw up and in because that's the pitch the new hitter wants to practice hitting.

"If I need him to throw to a certain location, I can count on him to throw it there," Sanchez said through an interpreter. "When you're hitting BP, there's a routine you're following. That's what I want to do in the game. He already knows what kind of routine I follow and what we need to do and what locations I want him to pitch."

Batting practice, though, is different than a derby, and Valiente has never pitched in that setting -- unless Judge's towering clouts before each game count.

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Tonight, Valiente won't be pitching from behind a protective L-Screen or to a hitter standing inside an on-field turtle batting cage. Instead, his only target will be an actual catcher behind the dish.

Judge isn't too concerned that the different setup will affect Valiente.

"He doesn't miss my barrel," Judge said. "Even the days I don't feel good in the cages with my swing, he somehow finds a way to make me feel good during BP."

Valiente first came to the United States from Cuba in 2006, and he started working for the Yankees only after begging Mark Newman, then the Yankees' senior vice president of baseball operations, for a job.

However, Valiente ascended through the Yanks' system because of his BP-throwing talents. In 2014, he was brought up to the big leagues and became the Yankees' BP pitcher.

Pitching in the Derby on tonight validates everything it took for him to get to this point.

"Now that I'm going to be a part of it, it's very special," Valiente said. "It feels like a dream."

Matthew Martell is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.