HOUSTON -- Leave it to Astros catcher Martín Maldonado to try to put teammate Framber Valdez in his place when he showed up at Minute Maid Park in July sporting some dreadlocks that appeared to be similar to the look of then-Reds pitcher Luis Castillo, who also hails from the Dominican Republic.
Valdez grew his hair prior to traveling to Los Angeles, where he wound up picking up the win for the American League in his first All-Star Game appearance. Castillo was traded to the Mariners a few weeks later, and they’ll face off in Game 2 of the American League Division Series on Thursday at Minute Maid Park.
“He was doing an interview and I said, ‘Are you trying to be Castillo?’” Maldonado joked. “So I was like, ‘I thought you wanted to be the left-handed Castillo.’ So now it's funny they're going to face each other tomorrow. One of the two, from the D.R., two Latin pitchers that are probably going to be pitching together in the [World Baseball Classic]. It's always nice see two Latin guys square up against each other from the same country, and I think they're going to have that feeling to beat each other out.”
The Astros lead the best-of-five series, 1-0, after a stunning come-from-behind victory in Game 1 on Tuesday and will be looking to take a 2-0 series lead into Seattle this weekend.
While Valdez will be making his ninth career playoff start -- and first of 2022 -- Castillo is coming off a dominating outing against the Blue Jays on Friday in Toronto, when he threw 7 1/3 scoreless innings in the Wild Card Series. Valdez took notice.
“I think he’s a really good pitcher,” Valdez said. “He's a pitcher that improved a ton. I think we can all agree with that. He's a guy that has really good command. But on the other hand, I also feel that I have really good command. I think I'm also a really good pitcher. I know how to manage myself out there, and we'll see what happens.”
Valdez started five games in last year’s playoffs, including two starts in the World Series in which he allowed 10 runs and 12 hits in 4 2/3 innings. The lefty had mixed results in last year’s postseason overall, posting a 7.78 ERA in 19 2/3 innings. That included a brilliant start at Fenway Park in Game 5 of the AL Championship Series in which he yielded one run and three hits in eight innings against the Red Sox
“Just continue doing the same thing from those starts, and the bad starts, I think just trying to stay a little bit more focused,” Valdez said. “My plan is going to be, just throw a lot of strikes, try to stay in the strike zone, trust my pitches, trust my team and just continue going forward throwing strikes to be able to continue forward in the playoffs and hopefully get to the World Series.”
Valdez’s first playoff experience came in empty stadiums in 2020. So when he took the ball in packed October environments last fall, Maldonado thinks nerves may have been an issue.
“I won't say [he was] afraid, but I would say he was, you know, intimidated could be the word,” he said. “Especially those young guys, they had a lot of inexperience before. And I think we should be expecting great from him, expecting something that he did all year -- to go out there and compete, throwing strikes, attacking the strike zone.”
Valdez doesn’t expect to get nervous on Thursday, and there won’t be much pressure on him considering Houston has the series lead. His ability to keep his emotions in check, something he didn’t do in the first two years of his career, is well-documented.
“But I definitely do get excited,” he said. “It's kind of one of those things that not every team has the opportunity to be in the postseason every single year. Thankfully, we have been for the last couple years, but that's a moment that I think we need to appreciate and have fun.”