TORONTO -- In addition to taking on the Blue Jays on Saturday afternoon at Rogers Centre, the Astros spent much of the game in a battle with themselves.
The American League West leaders were ultimately outdueled by Toronto, 6-4, with the young, yet scuffling AL East team taking advantage of its opportunities while the Astros struggled to do the same.
Framber Valdez got the start on the hill for the visitors and made just his second start since being recalled by Houston to take the rotation spot of Aaron Sanchez, who was sidelined with right pectoral soreness. The 25-year-old left-hander allowed six runs on nine hits with three walks and five strikeouts, but consistently ran into trouble finishing the job.
“There was a little bit of everything,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said of his hurler. “There were parts where he was really good and then parts where there was an ill-advised walk to [Cavan] Biggio that set up an inning. There [were homers to Teoscar Hernandez and Biggio], so we saw a little bit of everything from him.
“We extended him, just because of the way the ‘pen was going into today, and just when you think he’s out of it, he gives up a hit at the end and they tack on a run after that. So all in all, a mixed outing for him, but he did his piece, showed us flashes of some really good pitching and then some mistakes here or there.”
Despite the result, Valdez was encouraged by the strides he took in the 12th start of his Major League career.
"I felt good,” he said through team interpreter Oz Ocampo. “I felt like I was throwing the ball in the zone a lot more than in previous starts. To be able to do that, I was pleased about that. I was really focused on that. Obviously, the walks were not the best and the runs I gave up were not ideal, but in terms of what my plan was, I was able to execute that."
Eight of the nine knocks allowed by Valdez in his 5 2/3 innings came with two outs, along with all of the runs scored against him.
“I didn't feel frustrated as much as unlucky,” Valdez said. “Unlucky that I wasn't able to get the big out, that third out. But I was still able to throw pitches in the zone, and that's what my focus was today."
Added Hinch: “It’s usually about pitch selection with him. He’s got a really good breaking ball, and if they don’t chase -- which they did a little bit early and then they didn’t as the game went on -- he gets himself into a little bit of trouble. He’s still learning at this level and trying to repeat things and stay consistently in the strike zone.”
It appeared as though the Blue Jays were playing with fire in the matchup, issuing nine free passes to Houston’s hitters -- including five walks from starter Clay Buchholz -- as well as hitting Yuli Gurriel. However, the Astros couldn’t capitalize, hitting into four double plays in the first five frames and leaving runners in scoring position in the three innings that followed.
“We just didn’t put together enough good at-bats,” said Alex Bregman, who walked three times in the matchup and drove in two runs. “[Buchholz] did a good job of getting some double plays. We had a few balls that were hit well and got caught at the wall in the first, and then after that, he cruised.”
“We had a very disciplined approach today,” Hinch said, “and they got away with not having to throw us a lot of strikes until they really had to, and they won some at-bats. Obviously, you look back at that game and it’s close. We had plenty of chances.
“We drew a lot of walks -- more walks than hits -- and if you include the hit by pitch, it’s a lot of free baserunners to not be able to hit a ball in the gap or just find a hole or do something to put the pressure on them after they had a hard time with the strike zone.”
The loss for the Astros was their second in their last nine games, bringing Houston’s road record to 37-32, and 31-15 since the All-Star break.
“It’s just one game, so it’s not a big deal,” Bregman said. “We’ll be back at it tomorrow.”