'We need Framber': Valdez's gem helps Astros pad AL West lead

September 17th, 2023

KANSAS CITY -- Framber Valdez was tasked with ensuring the Astros’ three-game set in Kansas City didn’t end in disaster, and the All-Star delivered with another gem.

Valdez struck out five over seven innings, backed by homers from Jake Meyers and Yordan Alvarez, to lead the Astros to a 7-1 win over the Royals in the finale Sunday at Kauffman Stadium. Despite dropping the series against Kansas City, the Astros picked up a game in the American League West during the trip.

  • Games remaining (12): vs. BAL (3), vs. KC (3), at SEA (3), at AZ (3)
  • Standings update: The Astros (84-66) lead the AL West by 1 1/2 games over the Rangers (82-67), who lost to Cleveland on Sunday, and 2 1/2 games over the Mariners (81-68), who lost to the Dodgers on Sunday. The Astros hold the season tiebreaker against the Rangers, but not the Mariners.
  • Magic number to clinch AL West: 12

Sunday’s win wasn’t a complete change of pace (two errors) from the mistakes that allowed the Astros to drop four of six against the A’s and Royals, but Valdez’s outing on the mound halted the skid. The left-hander allowed just one unearned on five hits and now has gone at least seven innings in seven of his past nine starts. He sits 11 1/3 innings away from reaching the 200-inning mark for the second consecutive season.

Valdez has notched five straight quality starts, compiling a 3-1 record with a 1.59 ERA in that span. It was an outing the Astros simply had to have. 

“We needed those seven innings from Framber,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “Quality innings. We turned some key double plays, had some guys have some pretty good offensive days.

“ … You go through starts where you are adding on, adding on, adding consecutive games that your confidence grows. We need Framber. It was big for him.”

The only run the Royals scratched across was on Drew Waters' sacrifice fly after a wacky play in the fifth that started with an error and ended with José Abreu throwing his glove at a ball. Valdez not only limited the damage, but he then set down 10 of the next 11 batters he faced.

“With Framber on the mound and losing the last two here, we had to finish the series strong,” said Chas McCormick, who tallied three hits, stole two bases and drove in a run. “It was nice to come out there and show some energy and put up a good game. I thought we hit pretty well, put up good at-bats. Framber pitched amazing, and the bullpen came in and did the job. I’m just happy with how we played today.”

Valdez’s velocity was a tick down from normal, but he admitted he felt tightness early in the start and didn’t want to force anything. Baker said that the velocity dip wasn’t concerning, and only allowed Valdez to control his pitches more. The lefty ended his outing with a 21% whiff rate.

“I wasn’t trying to throw too hard today,” Valdez said. “I was throwing 94 [mph], 95, a couple 93s today. I didn’t want to force the arm, I didn’t want to go too hard for that. I was focused on throwing my pitches and executing them.”

Valdez didn’t need to strain because of another big day from the offense, which scored seven or more runs for the second straight game after scoring two or fewer runs in three of the previous four games. Alvarez got the attention of all 15,311 in attendance with a homer that left his bat at 115 mph, while McCormick, Jose Altuve (three hits) and Meyers also had productive days at the plate to aid Houston’s much-needed win.

“At this point every game is important,” Meyers said. “Showing up and trying to win the game that day is really important to us. I think that’s what we are going to do moving forward.”

With Valdez and Justin Verlander leading the charge, the Astros will have an advantage in a number of games down the stretch. With Baltimore, Seattle and Arizona still on the schedule, the Astros will need the best from their best to win their sixth division title in seven years. 

“It doesn't feel good to lose those [first two games], but the more important thing is we were able to stay on top, stay in first place,” Valdez said. “It’s going to happen sometimes. Teams are going to have some lows, but it’s important to win the games that we need to win. 

“Obviously, we still think we can make it to the playoffs, make it to the World Series and win the World Series, so it’s important we win the games we need to win.”