Red-hot Valdez makes more history in favorite jersey

With heightened role on Astros' staff, lefty spins 22nd straight quality start

August 31st, 2022

ARLINGTON -- On a day Astros ace Justin Verlander landed on the injured list with a calf injury and Rays ace left-hander Shane McClanahan was scratched from his scheduled start with a shoulder impingement, an emerging Cy Young Award candidate showed no signs of slowing down.

Workhorse Astros lefty set a Major League record for a southpaw by throwing his 22nd consecutive quality start -- defined as pitching at least six innings while allowing three earned runs or fewer -- to lead the Astros to a 4-2 win over the Rangers on Tuesday night at Globe Life Field.

The first-time All-Star is only the fourth pitcher in history to record 22 consecutive quality starts in a season, joining Jacob deGrom (24 straight in 2018), Bob Gibson (22 in ‘68), and Chris Carpenter (22 in ‘05).

"I feel very proud of a lot of the hard work I’ve been putting in," Valdez said. "Those are goals a lot of pitchers have, and being able to reach that goal and break that goal, I’m going to continue setting more goals and hopefully continue to break those, as well. I feel very proud."

Valdez (14-4) allowed seven hits and two runs while striking out eight batters in eight innings to polish off a perfect August. He went 5-0 with a 2.04 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in five starts in the month and has won six consecutive decisions dating back to July 24. He didn’t walk a batter for the first time since June 17.

"I think the concentration, the focus, having the support of the team the whole time helps a lot, and just staying ahead of hitters in the count," said Valdez, who threw 23 cutters to go along with his best two pitches, the sinker (48) and curveball (27).

"He's tough when he gets ahead of you with the breaking ball and executes his pitches," Rangers interim manager Tony Beasley said. "He didn't walk anyone, we walked six. That's not a good recipe when you play that team. ... Valdez did what we thought he would do. We had to scratch and claw for a few runs, which we did, but we didn't give ourselves the best chance."

Things are going so well for Valdez that he even got to choose what jerseys the Astros wore. Deeming the club's road grays were too uncomfortable, Valdez asked manager Dusty Baker for approval to wear the blue tops the Astros typically don in Sunday home games.

It’s Valdez’s world right now, so he was granted his wish.

"It’s more comfortable, not heavy," he said. "The gray is too heavy."

For the first time since he came over in a trade with Boston last month, catcher Christian Vázquez worked with Valdez, whose only blemishes on the night were a pair of solo homers -- his first instance allowing two long balls since Oct. 1, 2021. Valdez threw 104 pitches and worked at least eight innings for the fourth time this year.

"What you want is consistency," Baker said. "What drives you crazy is inconsistency when you don’t know what you’re going to get. Framber was great. He’s aware of the number of consecutive quality starts and that’s what's pushing him. Hey, let it push him. We’ll ride that. He was outstanding."

Valdez is unlikely to win the Cy Young Award, but he could be pushing toward a top five finish, if not higher. The Astros expect Verlander’s injury to not be a long-term issue, so should he return in time, the veteran right-hander and Valdez should be able to headline a deep Astros rotation heading into the playoffs.

"We don’t want to put that pressure on him about the Cy Young or none of that stuff," Baker said. "We just want him to keep winning. With J.V. out, that’s even more important, the fact he’s winning and the amount of quality innings he eats up for us. He’s pitching great. He’s learned to back off the mound when he’s losing it a little bit, and he’s more serious about his work and some of it is probably from watching J.V., too, at the same time."