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Valdez dazzles in 7, but Astros' bats quiet

Lefty's first start of 2019 is longest of his career
@brianmctaggart
June 8, 2019

HOUSTON -- The inability to throw strikes cost lefty Framber Valdez a shot at a spot in the starting rotation out of Spring Training, forcing him to begin the year in the bullpen. Injury and underperformance allowed Valdez an opportunity for first start of the season Saturday, and he delivered

HOUSTON -- The inability to throw strikes cost lefty Framber Valdez a shot at a spot in the starting rotation out of Spring Training, forcing him to begin the year in the bullpen. Injury and underperformance allowed Valdez an opportunity for first start of the season Saturday, and he delivered the goods for the Astros.

Valdez pounded the strike zone and had the best start of his young career, holding the Orioles to one run and five hits while striking out a career-high seven batters against no walks in seven innings in the Astros’ 4-1 loss at Minute Maid Park. Houston had won 10 in a row at home against Baltimore.

Box score

“This opportunity was a privilege, and to be able to take advantage of this opportunity when it presented itself, I’m very happy about that and I want to keep doing what I’m doing,” said Valdez.

The Astros turned to Valdez after rookie Corbin Martin was sent to Triple-A Round Rock after five starts, four of which were four innings or fewer. That hole in the rotation arose after veteran Collin McHugh was moved to the bullpen and the injured list shortly thereafter.

“While I was pitching in the bullpen, I was getting myself ready every day for any situation, doing my throwing program, doing my work so I’d be ready,” Valdez said. “When the situation presented itself to start, I was ready and I was glad that I was able to execute.”

Valdez threw a then-season-high 65 pitches in relief on Monday in Seattle, and the Astros were hoping to stretch him to 80 pitches on Saturday. He wound up throwing 84 (57 strikes) in seven innings, which was the best-case scenario to help a bullpen that’s still reeling from a large workload.

“Consistency in the zone, consistency with the curveball and throwing it for strikes and with the sinker as well, throwing it for strikes, staying in the zone and getting ahead -- all those things were working for me,” Valdez said.

Saturday was Valdez’s first start since Sept. 17, 2018, when he threw five scoreless innings against Seattle. He had walked 18 batters in 24 1/3 innings in his previous five Major League starts -- all last year.

“He was in the strike zone and commanding everything and it was impressive,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said. “The soft contact, the command of the breaking ball was really good, the swing and miss. He was very, very dominant and we needed him to go deep into the game and he earned that right by how he pitched and how he was efficient.”

The only run Valdez allowed came on a long solo homer by Renato Nunez in the sixth inning, and the Astros tied the game in the bottom of the inning on a sac fly off the bat of Yuli Gurriel on a ball that would have been a homer had right-fielder Anthony Santander not caught it and turned a double play.

The Orioles scored an unearned run against Will Harris in the seventh when shortstop Jack Mayfield made a throwing error trying to complete a difficult double play, and Richie Martin clobbered a two-run homer in the ninth against Reymin Guduan.

“We just didn't do enough offensively to put pressure on [Baltimore starter Andrew Cashner] and we pounded the ball into the ground a ton,” said Hinch, whose team was held to four singles. “He pitched a very good game and we didn’t get anything put together to help us.”

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.