SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Merkin Valdez's comeback bid from elbow surgery for San Francisco is generating interest from other teams eager to acquire him. He's staying put.
Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the right-hander is set to earn a roster spot for opening day as one of the Giants' 12 pitchers. He's out of options, and San Francisco isn't about to let him get away now. The club has invested plenty in the Dominican's health and future, and he's pitching like his old self again.
"He's upped his stock," pitching coach Dave Righetti said Sunday of Valdez, 26. "He's back on the radar big time."
Teams from around the Cactus League have been calling about Valdez, who missed all of the 2007 season recovering from Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery, and scouts are talking about him.
When the Giants acquired Valdez in a trade with the Braves in December 2002 that sent Russ Ortiz to Atlanta, he was considered one of the organization's top prospects. The elbow problem derailed what might have been a rapid ascent to the majors.
Valdez is looking forward rather than thinking back to the times during his rehabilitation when he had his doubts as to whether he would return to his former hard-throwing self. He's been working hard to develop a changeup and splitter.
"My arm feels great, and every day I feel better and better," Valdez said before Sunday's split-squad game against the Angels. "Every day I keep working hard. The most important thing is that I throw strikes and keep the ball down. Things can happen when you throw strikes."
In 2006, Valdez was moved into a full-time relief role for Triple-A Fresno and struggled. He went 0-4 with five saves and a 5.86 ERA in 47 games but still struck out 50 in 50º innings.
For now, the Giants are committed to using him as a one-inning option late in games. The 6-foot-5-inch Valdez is 1-0 with a 5.63 ERA, six strikeouts and three walks in seven exhibition outings. He hasn't allowed a run in five of his seven spring games.
Valdez has had one off performance, when he allowed four earned runs in one inning against Kansas City on March 10.
"The biggest thing we've seen from him is his delivery is better than it's ever been," Righetti said. "That's something we wanted him to do years ago. It might be he did it now because he had arm problems and wanted to get his career back.
"He looks good. He's throwing the ball downhill and has better command of his breaking ball."
Righetti is taking "baby steps" with Valdez but also is eager to use him in pressure situations late in games with runners on base to see how he handles such challenges. Righetti has seen that Valdez is carrying himself with more confidence and maturity.
"He's found a niche for himself," Righetti said.
Valdez isn't worried about the other teams that might want him. He'd rather stick around and show his Giants teammates he's back.
He pitched in instructional league last fall and then pitched winter-league ball back home in the Dominican, allowing three earned runs in 7ª innings for a 3.68 ERA in eight relief outings.
"I just think about doing my job," Valdez said. "In my mind, I wondered if I would be back. Now, I feel healthy. I don't feel any pain. I feel the same again."