Notes: Valdez set for rehab; Yuli's turnaround

May 15th, 2021

HOUSTON -- Speaking with reporters for the first time since he was diagnosed with a broken left ring finger two months ago, Astros left-hander said Friday he was told shortly after the March 2 injury there was a chance he could miss the entire season and it’s a “miracle” he’s recovered this quickly.

“It was a bad injury, a break to the finger,” he said. “I did everything I could to recover as quickly as possible. I’m taking care of myself, and working and getting after it with my therapy, and recovered as quickly as I could.”

Valdez threw 25 pitches in the bullpen at Minute Maid Park prior to Friday’s game under the watchful eye of team trainers, manager Dusty Baker and pitching coach Brent Strom. Valdez will begin a Minor League rehab assignment with three innings Sunday for Triple-A Sugar Land in Round Rock against the Express. He is expected rejoin the rotation in June.

“I had a really good bullpen today,” Valdez said. “I felt like I threw all the pitches I wanted to, and how and where I wanted to -- the sinker, the changeup, the curveball. It was all executed today. I feel like I had the perfect bullpen.”

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.

Valdez chose to rehab the injury instead of having surgery, which would have sidelined him longer. The Astros have said repeatedly he’s recovered quicker than they could have imagined.

“It’s always about wanting to get back faster but at the same time I have to understand what the team wants in this process,” he said. “I healed up and I feel ready to go whenever they need me.”

Gurriel putting 2020 behind him
’s rebound season comes as no surprise to Astros hitting coach Troy Snitker, who knows how extensively Gurriel worked in the offseason to put last year behind him. In his first 36 games this year, Gurriel has surpassed last year’s totals (57 games) in home runs (seven), RBIs (30), and walks (18) and needs one double to match last year’s mark.

“He worked hard this offseason to get to the point that I think overall he’s in a better position to produce cleaner swings,” Snitker said. “As a hitter, when the swing timing goes down and you don’t feel like you have to cheat to catch the ball out front, you have a ton more time. That time has allowed him to see the ball longer, which is why he’s performed so much better in the strike zone this year.”

Gurriel’s chase rate has decreased from 34.4 percent in 2020 to 28.2 percent this year. His strikeout rate of 12.6 percent is in the top 6 percent in MLB, and his walk rate of 11.9 percent is more than double his 2020 walk rate of 5.2 percent.

Simply put, Gurriel is walking a ton, swinging at better pitches and producing more contact.

“He’s worked hard to set up a little bit differently, get into some better positions so that his swing works cleaner, and it helps him get the ball in the air more often,” Snitker said. “As you can see, he’s driving the ball all over the field -- fastball to right, fastball to left, offspeed both ways. He just has a lot bigger room for error right now so he can use the whole field.”

Urquidy hopes to throw next week after clean MRI
An MRI performed on the right shoulder of starting pitcher showed some inflammation and no structural damage, meaning the right-hander could begin throwing again next week. He was removed from Wednesday’s game after 3 2/3 scoreless innings with right posterior shoulder discomfort.

“I know it’s nothing crazy,” Urquidy said. “The MRI just showed inflammation of the muscle in the back of my shoulder, and I have to just do treatment. I hope to throw next week for sure, but it depends a lot on how I feel day by day. I’m getting better, and I feel good.”

The Astros could skip Urquidy’s next turn to pitch without upsetting the rotation because they have an off-day on Monday before opening a three-game series at Oakland on Tuesday. His next turn in the rotation would arrive May 22 in Arlington against the Rangers.

“We have some time and some flexibility to try to make a decision on that,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said.

Urquidy is 3-0 with a 1.52 ERA and 0.72 WHIP in 23 2/3 innings in his last four starts.