Framber steps up to the challenge in pitching duel vs. Ohtani

Maldonado hits 2-run home run to help Astros snap three-game skid

May 10th, 2023

ANAHEIM -- An ace embraces the challenge that faced Tuesday against Angels star pitcher . The Astros had an overworked bullpen, a struggling offense, were mired in a three-game losing streak and needed Valdez at his best.

The finest start of Valdez’s season heretofore was the highlight of one of the best all-around wins for the Astros, who watched their ace lefty strike out a season-high 12 batters in eight innings of one-run ball to lead his team to a 3-1 win over the Angels on Tuesday night at Angel Stadium.

“I just tried to do the same thing I’ve always done -- try to attack the hitters and throw every pitch with intensity,” Valdez said.

, who was behind the plate for the Angels when Ohtani made his Major League debut as a pitcher on April 1, 2018, hit a two-run homer off Ohtani in the fifth, and added an RBI single later in the inning to put Houston ahead, 3-1.

“Any time you contribute offensively, especially after we had lost three in a row, I felt like it was a must-win game against a tough pitcher,” Maldonado said. “We had a good game plan going. I didn’t try to do too much.”

Valdez outdueled Ohtani, who struck out seven batters and gave up three runs in seven innings. The lefty set Astros season highs for innings pitched and strikeouts, falling one strikeout shy of his career high of 13. Valdez got 18 swings-and-misses, didn’t walk a batter and threw 75 of his 99 pitches for strikes.

“His breaking ball was excellent, he had real good command of his fastball, he was very efficient in his pitch count and he was masterful,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “If you’re striking them out…that helped his cause and our cause. We really needed this game. Seattle beat Texas, we got back to .500 and we beat Anaheim. So it was a good day for us, and a good day for Framber.”

Valdez relied mostly on three pitches -- his cutter (32 of 99 pitches), two-seam fastball (32) and curveball (26). He continued the uptick in his fastball velocity -- thrown 1.3 mph harder this year than last year's average of 95.2 mph -- averaging 96 mph and topping out at 98 mph.

“I think I’ve been throwing 98 going back to Atlanta [on April 22], and that’s because of all the hard work I’ve been putting in -- my work at the gym, all my running, all my conditioning and I think all the personal work I’ve been doing in the clubhouse,” Valdez said. “Just attacking the strike [zone] helps to get to that as well.”

The only runner that reached third base for the Angels was Zach Neto, who hit his first career homer in the third inning. worked a 1-2-3 ninth inning, retiring Ohtani, Anthony Rendon and Hunter Renfroe to end the game.

“He’s good; there’s no other way to put it,” Angels manager Phil Nevin said of Valdez. “There weren’t too many pitches to hit. I thought we took good swings when we actually did get a pitch to hit, but it was only here or there. It was one of his better games I’ve seen him throw, and I’ve seen him throw some good ones.”

Ohtani was terrific outside of the fifth inning, when the five consecutive Astros reached base after one out, capped by the RBI single by Alvarez.

“We found some holes, and he didn’t strike out as many as he usually does against us, which helped our cause,” Baker said. “We were aggressive on the bases because you can’t wait to get two or three hits in a row off of him. We played a good game. Everything worked out well.”