No surgery recommended for Valdez

Whitley undergoes Tommy John surgery on right elbow

March 18th, 2021

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- In what could only be considered good news for the Astros, the club announced Wednesday that left-handed pitcher Framber Valdez won’t have to undergo surgery on his broken left ring finger he suffered fielding a comebacker in his first start of Spring Training on March 2.

The team said Valdez met with hand surgeon Dr. Steve Shin in Los Angeles on Wednesday and new images taken of the finger showed “significant healing,” so no surgery was recommended. Valdez will return to the Astros’ complex in the next few days to continue to rehab his finger. Shin is the director of hand surgery at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles.

The Astros said there’s no timetable for Valdez’s return, but it’s safe to say he won’t be ready for Opening Day. When he’s cleared to pitch, he will have to build up his pitch count, a process that could take weeks. Still, some early reports suggested Valdez could be gone for the season, but that won’t be the case.

Valdez, 27, was a breakout performer for the Astros last year, going 5-3 with a 3.57 ERA and 1.12 WHIP in 11 games (10 starts) with 16 walks and 63 hits allowed in the regular season. Combined with the playoffs, he threw 94 2/3 innings in 2020, which was the most of any pitcher in the big leagues.

Dusty Baker said when he got the news he went onto the field and shared it with Jose Altuve, who was thrilled.

“It’s very good,” Baker said. “This is something that we had hoped for and everybody had prayed for. He’s a miraculous young man. He thought that it would heal and would be back sooner rather than later. That’s the power of positive thinking and the power of prayers, and I know his family was praying for it big time. That’s great news.”

Less than a week after Valdez was injured, the Astros struck a two-year deal with veteran right-hander Jake Odorizzi. An All-Star two years ago with the Twins, he had been in talks with the Astros for several weeks and reached a two-year deal with an option. Astros general manager James Click, who got to know Odorizzi when both were with the Rays, said the signing of Odorizzi had nothing to do with the fractured ring finger suffered by Valdez.

Odorizzi, 30, is coming off a season in which he pitched only 13 2/3 innings with the Twins following three stints on the injured list with an intercostal strain, a chest contusion and a blister on his right middle finger. In 2019, he went 15-7 with a 3.51 ERA (129 ERA+) and 178 strikeouts in 159 innings. Odorizzi said earlier this month his injuries are behind him.

Because he signed late, Odorizzi has yet to pitch this spring and also won’t be ready for Opening Day, though he should debut in April. The Astros could now have Valdez and Odorizzi in their rotation at some point this season, along with Opening Day starter Zack Greinke, Lance McCullers Jr., Jose Urquidy and Cristian Javier. In a season where starting pitching depth will be tested, the good news on Valdez is a huge development for Houston.

Whitley undergoes Tommy John surgery

Astros top pitching prospect Forrest Whitley underwent ulnar collateral ligament reconstructive surgery (Tommy John) on his right elbow Wednesday, as expected. The surgery was performed by Dr. Keith Meister in Arlington, the team said.

The recovery time for the surgery is generally 12-to-14 months, which means Whitley won’t pitch in 2021. Whitley felt discomfort in his elbow while throwing live batting practice during a Spring Training workout earlier this month.

Whitley, the No. 41-ranked prospect in baseball by MLB Pipeline, has seen his career derailed by injuries.

In 2019, Whitley posted a 7.99 ERA in four Minor League levels, including 12.21 at Triple-A Round Rock before being placed on the injured list with shoulder fatigue. In 2018, he was suspended 50 games for a violation of the Minor League drug prevention and treatment program and suffered a pair of oblique injuries. He appeared in only 23 games across three levels, posting a 2.92 ERA with 143 strikeouts in 92 1/3 innings.