"I think it was learning to fail," Valaika said of last season. "A lot of guys go through failure. It was good for me to do. I never did that in pro ball or college. To actually have it happen was very humbling. I think it helped me as a player. I learned from it, and I know if something like that were to happen again, I can ride it out and know how to make adjustments. Before, I was just going on talent alone."I learned not to take it too seriously. It's our job and our career, but it is also just a game. You have to respect it. You go through it without failing, everything seems easy. Then it will slap you in the face." It's a lesson that can't really be taught by any coach or manager but at some point, players need to learn how to cope with not performing well. "That's very important," Reds general manager Walt Jocketty said. "I think it's a big part of the development process and maturing. Homer [Bailey] did that. They have to feel some sort of adversity. It's best to do it in the Minor Leagues before they get to the Major Leagues and figure out how to deal with it." Valaika is on the 40-man roster this season and back for his second big league Spring Training. But there have been some alterations to his situation. For starters, he's been playing more second base than shortstop in camp drills. A shortstop his entire career in college and pro baseball, he played 18 games at second base last season for Louisville. The rise of shortstop prospect Zack Cozart, possibly to Triple-A, has prompted the shift of Valaika to the right side of the infield. "I know one thing. Cozart is a shortstop," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "I like his actions at shortstop. If you're going to play both of them, you might have to play Valaika at second base, so they can both play. Everybody comes up mainly at shortstop, that's where they put the best athlete and best player." "As long as I can stay on the field and keep hitting, wherever they need me, I'm ready," Valaika said. "Nothing is set in stone. They said to be good at both and the more I can play, the better." Addendum -- the more Valaika can hit, the better. It will be critical that he rebounds from 2009 to show that he warrants a big league call-up sometime during the season. "I think I can go into it with a clear head," said Valaika, who was 2-for-2 with a run scored in Saturday's 4-2 loss to the Indians. "Last year, I was coming off of a big season before. I wanted to prove to myself I deserved this and I belonged here. This year, I think I can go back and understand the game and ride that wave. If I get off to a good start, great. If I get off to a bad start, just ride it out and learn how to play."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less