Valdez adjusts on the fly to get back on track
ARLINGTON -- The success of Astros starter Framber Valdez is always going to depend on his ability to throw strikes and avoid the walks that tend to pile up when things aren’t going well. And when his trusty curveball isn’t working as effectively as it usually does, that’s when he shows his other weapons, as well.
Valdez -- coming off a pair of shaky outings in which he gave up seven runs on 10 hits and nine walks in 7 1/3 innings -- got his season back on track Monday night at Globe Life Field by allowing one unearned run on four hits and two walks in six innings in a 6-2 loss to the Rangers. He threw 97 pitches in his fourth start of 2022 -- the most by an Astros pitcher this season.
“It felt good,” Valdez said. “I broke the streak of pitching three, four, five innings, I started off the game well, and I think I finished strong. I was very focused and worked on the things that I had to work on.”
Valdez all but ditched his curveball later in the game, because he was having trouble getting it over the plate. He threw 30.1 percent curveballs in his first three starts, but he threw only 18 curves (19 percent) on Monday, including only one over his final 30 pitches. Of the 18 curveballs he threw, only six were strikes.
“It just wasn’t falling in the zone today,” Valdez said. “It’s one of those days. I’m not really worried about the pitch; it’s a really good pitch. But that’s why we have multiple pitches. When one pitch isn't working, we go to the other ones and that’s what we did. We adjusted today and went to the other secondary pitches.”
It was the other pitches that bailed Valdez out in the sixth, an inning which began with consecutive first-pitch singles to Corey Seager and Mitch Garver. He turned to the sinker to strike out Nick Solak looking before getting Nathaniel Lowe swinging on a cutter, and getting Charlie Culberson to ground out with a changeup to end his night. The runners were never able to advance.
“He did a really nice job adapting and kind of pitching around it where he needed to,” catcher Jason Castro said of the curveball. “It was pretty dry out there, because the roof [was open] and the wind and everything. Nights [when] those are the conditions, maybe we’ll have the changeup in the back pocket that can help. That was a big part of what got him extended tonight and allowed him to get deeper in the game.”
Castro, catching Valdez for the first time since June 26 last season, said mixing pitches was the key.
“He threw some cutters; his changeup looked really good tonight, and his curveball and sinker were good,” he said. “It’s nice to kind of see him back on track and get out of some spots and pitch like the Framber that we know and that we need.”
Valdez didn’t escape the night unscathed -- literally. He was struck on the back of his right shoulder by a broken bat after he induced a grounder from Lowe in the fourth inning. Valdez had walked the leadoff batter, threw a wild pitch and hit Solak with a curveball that bounced before getting Lowe to hit into a 4-6-3 double play. He paid for it, though, but said he’s fine.
“It hurt a little bit, but it will get better,” Valdez said.