Valdez once again looks like ace for Astros

September 2nd, 2020

HOUSTON -- Perhaps the biggest positive storyline for the Astros this season has been the evolution of left-hander into a workhorse starting pitcher who’s throwing like an ace in the absence of Justin Verlander.

Valdez was in line to win his fourth consecutive start before Elvis Andrus hit a game-tying homer off closer Ryan Pressly in the ninth and the Rangers took advantage of two errors and a balk by reliever Blake Taylor to push across two runs in the 10th to beat the Astros, 6-5, on Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park.

“Boy, that was a bad night at the ballpark for us,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said.

Not for Valdez, who held the Rangers to three runs and five hits, allowing three walks and striking out eight batters in seven innings. He’s thrown at least seven innings in three consecutive starts and four of his last five, giving him a team-high 45 1/3 innings pitched. He had only one seven-inning start in his first 13 career outings prior to 2020.

“Last year, I would let a lot of things get out of control really quickly,” Valdez said. “Whatever happens in the game, I lost focus and lost my temper and things get out of hand. I worked on mentality more than anything. I worked on my focus and being able to take one pitch at a time so I don’t let games speed up on me anymore.”

Still, the first inning Tuesday was teetering on the brink for Valdez, who hit Shin-Soo Choo to lead off the game, committed a costly throwing error, threw a wild pitch and issued a walk. That was all within the first four batters of the game.

“It’s tough because I lost my routine a little bit, lost my balance,” he said. “I couldn’t work out and couldn’t be on the field so I didn’t have control over my body. I had to work hard to refocus and move on from that inning and get my balance back, and I felt like I did that.”

Valdez had seven days off between starts after the Astros had four games postponed in a week’s span for three different reasons -- two because of an approaching hurricane, one because of a social justice protest and one because of a positive COVID-19 test on the Oakland A’s.

“A lot of it had to do with a couple of days off from throwing and I wasn’t able to do the things I needed to do,” Valdez said.

Valdez cruised through the next six innings, though, giving up one run on a triple by Ronald Guzmán in the fourth. Michael Brantley hit a two-out, three-run homer off reliever Nick Goody with two outs in the seventh inning to put the Astros ahead, 4-3, and put Valdez in line for the win. But Andrus’ game-tying homer off Pressly in the ninth and a sloppy 10th defensively dropped the Astros three games behind the first-place A’s in the American League West.

“Good swing at the time to give us the lead right there,” Brantley said of his homer. “Give credit to Texas with a big swing in the ninth to come back and tie it. We have to play better fundamental baseball to win. That’s a Major League team across the field, a good one. And you have to play good, clean baseball to win.”