HOUSTON -- Astros starter Framber Valdez teetered on the brink of disaster early on, walking four of the first seven batters he faced. At that point, there were few signs he was going to be able to finish the second inning, much less work deep into the game.
Valdez reigned in his control and regained his composure, retiring 14 of the final 16 batters he faced without giving up a hit through six innings. The Astros couldn’t finish off the no-hitter -- Isiah Kiner-Falefa led off the eighth with a bloop single off Ryne Stanek -- and settled for a combined two-hitter in a 4-1 win over the Rangers on Saturday night at Minute Maid Park.
“I looked up and saw there was a no-hitter, and I couldn’t believe it because of the amount of walks that were out there,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “At least he won the ballgame and kept us in the game. That’s what matters, is the fact we won."
Valdez (6-2) has walked 21 batters in 28 1/3 innings in his last five starts. He has a 4.13 ERA, 1.69 WHIP and 6.67 walks per nine innings in that span. In his first five starts (he missed the first two months after fracturing his finger), he walked just nine in 38 1/3 innings with a 2.11 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 2.11 walks per nine.
“I think what happens is, I focus too much on not giving up the walk,” he said. “I have a little bit of fear sometimes of not throwing that second ball, not throwing that third ball, and that causes me to get in situations where I’m not on top of my control exactly. It’s something that I, myself, can change. I have the power to change that and control that. I can make the adjustments and change my mindset, and things will come out better for me.”
Baker said it’s a mechanical flaw in which Valdez isn’t able to repeat his delivery, and he’s been working on it with pitching coaches Brent Strom and Josh Miller and assistant pitching coach Bill Murphy.
“We’ll find it,” Baker said. “You’ve got to give him credit. Boy, he went out there and was struggling from the beginning and didn’t give up [any] hits and gave up quite a few walks, and that’s not Framber. He’ll be all right.”
Valdez got his pitch count somewhat back on track when he threw six pitches in the fifth inning, giving him 76 for the game, but a 23-pitch sixth ended his night after 99 pitches, despite the fact he still had a no-hitter intact.
“If we’d left him out there to get the no-hitter, he’d be up to 140 pitches,” Baker said. “You’ve got to think logically what’s best for him. Sometimes, you’re going to pitch great and lose and other times, you’re going not very well and win, but the key is we won.”
Valdez said he didn’t get frustrated by the number of walks he issued and instead tried to get some ground balls. That worked well in the second inning, when he walked the first two batters and then recorded three outs on seven pitches, including a double-play grounder off the bat of Charlie Culberson. He steadied himself from there.
“I didn’t get frustrated by that,” he said. “I didn’t take it to heart. I recognize that I threw a lot of pitches early, I recognize I wasted a lot of pitches. I know what I need to do, and I know I need to change that so I’ll be able to get deeper into games and make the adjustments I need to.”
After Bryan Abreu threw a scoreless seventh, Kiner-Falefa began the eighth with a shallow pop fly to right-center field off Stanek that was nearly caught by diving center fielder Myles Straw, with hustling right fielder Kyle Tucker sliding behind him. There was just enough grass for the ball to drop for the first hit.
“I thought they had a chance,” Baker said. “That was the one guy in their lineup that’s going to put the ball in play and use the whole field, and if anybody was going to break it up over there, it [was] probably going to be him. He’s a heck of a player. I thought they had a chance, but when I saw them converging, I didn’t know which was going to catch it. I knew they were both going to try to catch it.”