HOUSTON -- When Astros left-hander Framber Valdez fractured his left ring finger while fielding a ground ball in his first start of the spring on March 2, there were fears in the organization that he was going to be out for the rest of the season.
That would have been a devastating blow to the Astros, who last year watched Valdez set career highs in innings and strikeouts while leading the Major Leagues in innings pitched, including the playoffs. The breakout season prompted high expectations for 2021, and the injury nearly squashed them before the season began.
Valdez, who manager Dusty Baker called a “quick healer,” was back on the mound by late May and made his 22nd and final start of the regular season Friday night at Minute Maid Park. He gave up four runs on four hits while striking out seven batters in five-plus innings in the Astros’ 8-6 loss to the A’s.
“My body feels good as always, and the break with the finger didn’t change that,” Valdez said. “It didn’t delay me as far as physically or mentally, either. I had to recuperate and had to take the time to get back physically, and I was able to do that within a month there. I was physically really good, and I felt strong and ready to compete.”
• Games remaining: 2 vs. A’s
• Standings update: Astros have won the AL West
• Magic number for home-field advantage in ALDS: 1 (over the White Sox)
Valdez went 11-6 with a 3.14 ERA in 134 2/3 innings, allowing 110 hits (12 homers) and 58 walks with 125 strikeouts this year for the Astros.
“He far exceeded our expectations, because we didn’t even know if we were going to have him at all,” Baker said. “He came in and pitched well and still had 100-something innings. He went deep into ballgames and outside of today, his last couple of starts were really outstanding. We’re just fortunate to have him as long as we did, because we thought he’d be out longer than that. He really saved us by coming back and healing very quickly.”
The Astros haven’t announced their rotation for the ALDS, but Valdez is likely to pitch one of the first two games. In two starts against the White Sox this year, he’s 1-1 with a 4.05 ERA and a 1.275 WHIP. He allowed two earned runs in seven innings on June 19 in Houston and four earned runs in 6 1/3 innings on July 18 in Chicago.
“I feel like I worked pretty well against them last time,” he said. “It’s a matter of coming back and doing it again, coming with 100 percent of my arsenal. I've been throwing all my pitches with the highest intensity I can, and I need to ... do the job against them.”
Siri leaves games with injury
Astros right fielder Jose Siri, who’s competing for a spot on the playoff roster, led off the first inning with a triple and injured his right hand sliding head-first into third base. Baker said he’s being evaluated by team doctors, so there’s no word on the extent of the injury.
“That hurt there because he started out with a triple,” Baker said. “Any time you go head-first, you’ve got a better chance of being safe, but you’ve also got a better chance of hurting your hands, wrist and shoulder.”
Siri didn’t appear to be hurt initially, clapping his hands together when he hit third base and pointing towards the Houston dugout. Kyle Tucker, who was supposed to have the day off after the Astros clinched the AL West title on Thursday, took over his spot and went 2-for-3.
“A lot of times, you hurt yourself and you don’t really feel it ‘til after ‘cause your adrenaline takes over,” Baker said. “He walked by me and said, ‘I hurt my hand,’ and he went to the trainers’ room, and the trainer came out and said I had to take him out of the ballgame.”