HOUSTON -- Charlie Morton went down with an injury Sunday afternoon, but rookie Framber Valdez saved the day.Valdez threw six innings in relief of Morton, who was pulled after one inning with shoulder discomfort, and the lefty allowed one run on three hits while striking out nine batters to lead
HOUSTON -- Charlie Morton went down with an injury Sunday afternoon, but rookie Framber Valdez saved the day.
Valdez threw six innings in relief of Morton, who was pulled after one inning with shoulder discomfort, and the lefty allowed one run on three hits while striking out nine batters to lead the Astros to a 6-2 win and a three-game sweep of the Angels in the regular-season finale at Minute Maid Park.
"We thought it was going to be a little bit shorter start for Charlie, and it was a little bit shorter than we even expected," Astros manager AJ Hinch said. "But having Valdez down there was really favorable for us for a lot of reasons. He's rested and he's really good. Big for him to pitch six innings and pitch effectively."
• Morton exits after 1st with shoulder discomfort
The Astros (98-57) reduced their magic number to clinch the American League West to three over the A's, who lost to the Twins on Sunday. Houston's 98 wins are the third-most in club history in a season.
"As easy as these guys are making it look, it's hard being the hunted and being the team that's in it and certainly getting some good at-bats pieced together against good pitching, we're doing our part," Hinch said.
Valdez only walked two batters, which had been an issue for him, and threw 59 of his 95 pitches for strikes. He knew he was going to follow Morton at some point in the game, but he didn't think it would be after one inning.
"I was prepared mentally to pitch at least one or two or three innings in this game," Valdez said. "When Morton came out, I did everything I needed to do mentally and physically in order to prepare."
Yuli Gurriel, who hit two homers and drove in seven runs Friday, stayed hot by blasting a two-run homer off Tyler Skaggs to help the Astros to a 3-1 lead after one inning. Marwin Gonzalez added an RBI single in the third, and Evan Gattis had his second RBI single of the game in the fifth.
"I've been working on my hands more than anything else and really focusing on that and improving the movement in my hands has allowed for better results," said Gurriel, who was 8-for-14 with three homers and 10 RBIs in the series against the Angels.
Valdez (4-1) had made five starts since making his Major League debut in relief on Aug. 21 and was scheduled to start Wednesday's series finale in Toronto, but that's not going to happen after throwing 95 pitches against the Angels. His six innings pitched on Sunday were the most in his seven big league outings.
"He can throw strikes," Hinch said. "If he tries to be a little bit too perfect, his action on his pitches in his strike zone do so much good for him. He's a guy that can live inside the strike zone because of that big breaking ball but if he can challenge the strike zone and get guys to swing, he's a difficult guy to center up as a hitter."
Valdez, 24, is the youngest left-handed pitcher to strike out nine batters in relief since 23-year-old Johan Santana struck out nine on Sept. 2, 2002.
HE SAID IT
"We need Evan Gattis to have our complete team for his last week and into the playoffs. … You look up at the board and he's got 25 homers and 70-plus RBIs. He's very productive hitter and we're going to need him." -- Hinch, on Gattis, who went 3-for-3 with two RBIs
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
The Astros unsuccessfully challenged a call in the first inning when Justin Upton scored on a wild pitch, just ahead of the tag from Morton. The call stood after a replay review, giving Los Angeles an early lead.
Left-hander Dallas Keuchel (11-11, 3.71 ERA) opens up the Astros' final road trip of the season at 6:07 p.m. CT on Monday against the Blue Jays at Roger Centre in Toronto. The series will feature the Gurriel brothers -- Lourdes Jr. of the Jays and Yuli of the Astros -- facing off, as well as relief pitcher Roberto Osuna's return to Toronto for the first time since he was traded to the Astros in July. Right-hander Marco Estrada (7-13, 5.57) will start for the Blue Jays.
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.