HOUSTON -- The Astros were in position to win, putting their two best relievers on the mound in the eighth and ninth innings with a lead on Sunday afternoon against the Mariners, thanks to the excellent work of starting pitcher Framber Valdez.
Things went awry after Valdez left the game -- Kendall Graveman gave up a run in the eighth, Ryan Pressly allowed a game-tying homer in the ninth, and the Astros lost, 6-3, in 11 innings. But Valdez posted another bounceback start and appears to have put his early summer struggles behind him.
Valdez threw seven scoreless innings at Minute Maid Park, allowing three singles and one walk while striking out six batters for his third consecutive quality start (1.88 ERA in 19 2/3 innings). He lowered his career ERA against Seattle in seven appearances (five starts) to 1.21.
“This is my first outing this year against the Mariners, and I know I’ve had some success against them in the past, but it’s a little bit different when you see a team all the time,” Valdez said. “Today, I felt really good with all my pitches. I was throwing the ball down the zone, throwing it for strikes when I wanted to and throwing my curveball with intensity. I felt really good with everything I was doing. I was able to shut them down pretty much through seven innings.”
Valdez, who was averaging 6.1 walks per nine innings in eight starts (46 innings) between July 1-Aug. 11, has walked only two batters in 13 2/3 innings over last two outings, allowing just three runs and 12 hits. The fact he’s regained his command is a terrific development for Houston.
“His command was great,” shortstop Carlos Correa said. “When he’s throwing strikes, he’s very hard to hit. I’m really proud of the way he was able to handle the failure that he had at some point in the season and how he’s back on track. Hopefully, we can carry that until the end of the season.”
In a six-start stretch from July 6-Aug. 5, Valdez had a 4.64 ERA and a 1.67 WHIP. Those numbers came on the heels of a terrific start to the season, in which he allowed just six earned runs in his first five starts, covering 32 1/3 innings. Valdez didn’t start a game until May 28 after fracturing his left ring finger in his first start of Spring Training.
“I've made the adjustments I needed to make to get to where I wanted to be,” he said. “I think I’ve had some really good results with that. That’s not to say I’m just going to stay happy with that. I’m going to keep working and making small adjustments when necessary and keep having the kind of results I want to when I’m out there.”
Valdez was able to take a huge step forward last year and develop into a frontline starter thanks to improved mental focus, but he said the adjustments he’s made in his last few starts have been physical.
“Whether I was getting too quick with my delivery and ahead of myself, or I was sitting back too long, or my arm was getting out of the slot and it was causing it to be behind with some of the pitches,” he said. “I’ve been working all week long and focusing on being connected -- my body and my arm -- and it is where it needs to be. I’m making sure everything is in rhythm with my delivery.”
With his mechanics ironed out, Valdez will look to stay sharp for the stretch run and into the playoffs. He’s already thrown 98 innings this year, which is more than the 94 2/3 innings he tossed last year in the regular season and playoffs. That was the most in the Major Leagues in 2020.
“Physically, I feel really good,” he said. “I feel really strong. It’s something I’ve worked on and put a lot of focus into to make sure I’m resilient with my physical side. I’ve been in gym all the time working on my condition, working on my strength, just to be able to be durable and be able to keep battling in there and throwing the innings they need me to throw and be able to go as deep into ballgames as I can. It’s something I’m working on a lot.”