WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Astros manager Dusty Baker on Wednesday set his starting pitching rotation for the first three games of the regular season, tabbing left-hander Framber Valdez to start on Opening Day in Anaheim against the Angels, who will throw Shohei Ohtani in the April 7 opener.
It’s the first Opening Day assignment for Valdez, who missed the first two months of last season with a broken finger before going 11-6 with a 3.14 ERA in 22 starts. Valdez started two games in the 2021 World Series against the Braves, giving up 10 earned runs in 4 2/3 innings in losses in Games 1 and 5.
“This guy’s been a big-game pitcher and I don’t think this assignment is going to overwhelm him,” Baker said. “He can handle the World Series and all the other stuff. This is nothing.”
Here’s how the Astros’ rotation likely lines up to begin the season:
Thursday, April 7 at Angels: LHP Framber Valdez
Friday, April 8 at Angels: RHP Jake Odorizzi
Saturday, April 9 at Angels: RHP Justin Verlander
Sunday, April 10 at Angels: RHP José Urquidy
Tuesday, April 12 at D-backs: RHP Luis Garcia
The Astros decided earlier in camp to move Cristian Javier to the bullpen, giving them a long relief option to begin a season in which starters aren’t going to be as stretched out as they typically would because of the shortened spring schedule. Lance McCullers Jr., who was Houston's best starter last year, will start the season on the injured list with a flexor tendon injury.
Baker said the club will go with a five-man rotation to begin the season, despite having two off-days in the first seven days of the regular season. Valdez has made only one Grapefruit League start, throwing 30 pitches in three scoreless innings on Monday. Verlander was stretched out to 62 pitches in four innings on Tuesday, and Odorizzi’s most recent start came on the back fields.
“This is a short spring,” Baker said. “I can’t stress that enough.”
Valdez has one start remaining in Spring Training and he could get stretched out to 50 pitches, which means his Opening Day start against the Angels would be limited in terms of innings and pitches.
“You usually put a lot of pressure on your bullpen early if your starters aren’t built up, and then the starters get built up and hopefully take a little pressure off the bullpen,” Baker said.
Verlander, who started on Opening Day for the Astros in 2018-20, was taken out of consideration for another Opening Day start earlier this week after his previous Grapefruit League start was pushed back one day. The Astros wanted Verlander, who missed last year following Tommy John surgery, to have an extra day between starts.
“We’ve still got to be aware he had Tommy John,” Baker said.
The Astros could slide Javier back into a starting role and go with a six-man rotation during a stretch when they play 33 games in 34 days, beginning on April 22.
Zack Greinke started on Opening Day for the Astros last year, but he signed with the Royals earlier this month. Houston has won nine consecutive games on Opening Day, meaning they haven’t dropped an opener since they moved to the AL in 2013.