HOUSTON -- With right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. likely out of the postseason after suffering right forearm tightness in Tuesday's Game 4 start in the American League Division Series against the White Sox, left-hander Framber Valdez will assume the role as Houston’s ace for the rest of the playoffs.
Valdez is getting the ball for the Astros in Game 1 of the AL Championship Series on Friday against the Red Sox at Minute Maid Park, marking his second consecutive Game 1 start in the ALCS. He has certainly come a long way since he was battling control problems and struggling to stay in the big leagues in 2018 and ’19.
“I feel really proud of myself to be able to make my own story in this postseason, to have the opportunity to win the confidence of a manager [Dusty Baker] who doesn't mess around,” Valdez said. “You know, he has a ton of baseball experience, and he acts on it. So to be able to achieve the goals of first being in the big leagues, being a member of the Houston Astros, and now winning the confidence of the manager to be the starter for Game 1 of the postseason in the ALCS [is rewarding].”
Friday will be Valdez’s fifth career playoff start, which includes starts in Games and 1 and 6 of the ALCS last year against the Rays. He lasted 4 1/3 innings in Game 2 of the ALDS this year, allowing four runs on seven hits and one walk. He’s 3-1 with a 2.86 ERA in five career playoff outings (one in relief).
“I feel really good about it,” Valdez said. “I think that the confidence is something that you earn out there with the performance that you have, and you demonstrate time after time that the team can count on you to get through innings, to keep you in games. That's where you earn the confidence of your team.”
Perhaps the most memorable moment of Valdez’s postseason experience came in Game 6 of the ALCS last year, when shortstop Carlos Correa gave him a passionate pep talk on the mound during a tense spot in the sixth inning, and Valdez responded by escaping a jam.
“He was just telling me, ‘Focus on what you need to do in the situation, get a ground-ball out. And we need you, you're the guy for this situation, just get things under control and get us out of this situation,’” Valdez said. “And pitching in the playoffs, it's where you show who you really are. It's what adds up over the course of the season, and it's a chance to show who you really are as a pitcher in the postseason.”
Meyers says he’s ready to go
Rookie outfielder Jake Meyers, who left Game 4 of the ALDS after slamming his left shoulder into the wall in Chicago, proclaimed himself good to go for Game 1 of the ALCS. Meyers worked out with the Astros on Thursday at Minute Maid Park and threw several balls from the outfield, and he said it went well.
“It’s the team’s decision and I feel good, but [I'll do] whatever is going to help the team win,” he said.
Meyers exited Tuesday's game after slamming into the center-field wall while trying to rob Gavin Sheets of a home run. He was down for a few minutes, and though Meyers wanted to stay in the game, Correa talked him into coming out if he wasn’t 100 percent.
“My shoulder got caught in between me and the wall,” Meyers said. “It was an awkward play. The wind had moved the ball a little bit farther than I wanted to. It was just an awkward play, and I’m grateful that I still get the opportunity to keep playing baseball, and I thank the medical staff for helping me keep playing.”
Correa, Cora relishing ALCS matchup
As soon as the Astros beat the White Sox to clinch a spot in the ALCS against Boston, Red Sox manager Alex Cora texted Correa: “See you soon.” Cora, who was the Astros’ bench coach when Houston won the World Series in 2017, and Correa are close friends dating from Correa’s time as a young player in their native Puerto Rico.
“We have a great relationship,” Correa said. “I met him when I was still in Puerto Rico. I was still in high school. He’s a great baseball mind, and a guy that I learned a lot from when he was here, but now he’s on the other side, so we have to go out there and beat him.”
Cora is close with several players on the Astros, including Martín Maldonado and Yuli Gurriel. He plans to keep texting with them up until game time on Friday. Cora said Correa has became the player and leader he envisioned when the Astros drafted him No. 1 overall in 2012.
“I texted his dad today, this morning, [and said] this is what we envisioned a few years ago -- the leader,” Cora said. “You know, there's a lot of conviction behind him. He is very firm on what he believes, and he is a great player. And you're not 1-1 in the Draft because you're lucky. You're 1-1 because you're good and people expect you to be great, and that's what he is.”
Odds and ends
Josh Reddick, who started for the Astros in right field from 2017-20 (and came up to the big leagues with the Red Sox in '09), will throw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to Game 1. Astros coach Gary Pettis, who missed the first half of the season while getting treated for multiple myeloma, will throw out the first pitch prior to Game 2 on Saturday.