Valdez shakes off rocky 1st for 17th straight quality start

Workhorse lefty’s efforts not enough as Pressly, Astros stung by familiar foe

July 31st, 2022

HOUSTON -- Astros starter Framber Valdez sat alone for a few minutes at the end of the bench in the dugout following Saturday’s 5-4 loss to the Mariners, with disappointment -- and maybe some disbelief -- seemingly oozing from his pores. 

The All-Star left-hander was on target to pick up his 10th win of the season after overcoming a shaky first inning by following that with six scoreless frames against the Mariners. The Astros’ two-run rally in the seventh put them ahead, 4-3, with Ryan Pressly coming on in the ninth to try and get the save.

Mariners pinch-hitter Abraham Toro -- traded to Seattle from Houston a year ago -- ruined the night for the Astros with a two-run single in the ninth inning, sending Houston to only its second loss this season in 59 games when leading after eight innings.

“It’s definitely disappointing, seeing your teammate not being able to accomplish what he went out there to do,” Valdez said. “It’s nobody’s fault. It’s part of the game and things happen.”

Valdez, despite allowing three runs in the first inning, delivered his 17th consecutive quality start by throwing 106 pitches in seven innings, allowing three runs on five hits and one walk with seven strikeouts. He leads the Majors with 18 quality starts and is three shy of tying Mike Scott’s club record of 20 in a row set in 1986.

Considering Valdez needed 32 pitches to escape the first inning, it was an accomplishment to finish seven innings. He hit two batters with breaking pitches in the first and gave up RBI hits to Eugenio Suárez and Adam Frazier. Valdez also threw a wild pitch.

“Early in the game, sometimes you don’t have a feel for the breaking ball,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “You get it as the game goes on. He had an outstanding breaking ball after that first inning, and he [got] some key double plays. It was ours to win, and we didn’t.”

Beginning with the final out of the first inning, Valdez retired 17 of the final 20 batters he faced, including a 1-2-3 seventh inning. He threw fewer pitches in the fifth (13), sixth (seven) and seventh (11) combined than he did in the troublesome first inning. 

“It started off a little rough, and they hit some balls to the infield,” Baker said. “Then he hit a couple of batters with the breaking balls, which has been happening with regularity. We’ve got to straighten that out, but he was good. He was very good after that. He gave us seven innings. We came back and had a chance to get some more, and I was hoping we would get an insurance run or two.”

Since giving up six runs to the Angels in 4 1/3 innings on April 19, Valdez is 8-3 with a 2.59 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in 17 starts. He’s managed to pick up only one win, though, in his past five starts, but Valdez remains one of the American League’s top workhorse starters.

“It was big for me, being able to bounce back from something like that [the first inning], just showing the intensity and focus after having a rough inning,” Valdez said.