Framber's shutout wraps 'perfect homestand'

Astros win seventh straight as Valdez blanks A's with masterful outing

May 21st, 2023

HOUSTON -- has already outdueled Shohei Ohtani.

So when A’s starter James Kaprielian held Houston hitless through four innings on Sunday, Valdez didn’t skip a beat. After all, the 2022 AL Cy Young Award candidate can hold his own against any pitcher in the American League.

The left-hander tossed his second career shutout and first at Minute Maid Park, extending Houston’s winning streak to a season-high seven games with a 2-0 win over the Athletics.

“I’ve seen him better,” catcher said. “That game against the Angels [against Ohtani], that was amazing. Today, he stepped up when we needed him … just Framber being Framber.”

Valdez’s outing didn’t start as seamlessly as it would become, with Maldonado calling his warmup “crazy.”

“When I go to warm up, I try to relax my body: my back, my legs, my arm, my hamstrings,” Valdez said with a laugh through interpreter Jenloy Herrera. “I think [Maldonado] thinks that I need to be a little more tense, a little bit more serious when I go out there to warm up, but I just like to relax.”

When he started pitching, the left-hander certainly looked relaxed, breezing through the A’s lineup with eight single-pitch at-bat outs, including two to start his day.

Valdez struck out seven, tossed an economical 104 pitches and pounded the strike zone with his sinker, collecting 22 called strikes. When the A’s hitters did swing, they didn’t find much success either, sprinkling just three singles and a double over nine innings.

In Valdez’s last start vs. the Cubs -- after his best outing of the year vs. Ohtani and the Angels -- he allowed a bunch of hard contact, lasting only four innings and allowing four runs on seven hits while striking out eight.

“He really wanted it today, especially after his last outing,” manager Dusty Baker said. “He was dissatisfied with himself … You could see his determination.”

The outing against Chicago was indicative of how Valdez, the league leader in groundball percentage since the start of 2021, has changed as a pitcher. This season, he’s been giving up fewer ground balls, walking fewer batters and striking out more batters, but also allowing the hardest contact of his career, according to Statcast.

Groundball rate: 61.6% (67.4% in 2022, 66.1% career)
Strikeout rate: 28.1% (23.5% in 2022, 23.4% career)
Walk rate: 5.2% (8.1% in 2022, 9.2% career)
Barrel rate: 9.9% (5.8% in 2022, 6.2% career)

But on Sunday, he was back to being “vintage Framber,” A’s manager Mark Kotsay said, inducing ground ball after ground ball. Center fielder , whose streak of reaching base safely in nine straight plate appearances ended in the eighth, was certainly happy to watch and observe from the outfield grass.

“As an outfielder, I do know showing up to the ballpark, I will probably get less action, which is okay,” Meyers said. “It’s fun to watch him. He’s an incredible pitcher.”

Meyers earned the Astros’ first hit of the game in the fifth, coming around to score on a single from , who returned Friday from his fractured right thumb. The RBI knock helped Altuve tie José Cruz for the third-most hits in franchise history at 1,937.

“I'm happy for him,” Cruz said. “He's going to break many guys' records. I'm the first one and there's going to be many more."

That Altuve RBI single proved to be all the run support Valdez needed. His shutout increased the pitching staff’s lead for the lowest team ERA in the Majors at 3.19, and gave the Astros their 10th win in their last 11 games to wrap a  six-game homestand with a rested bullpen.

“This is what you live for, a perfect homestand,” Baker said.