Valdez to face hitters 'ahead of schedule'

April 27th, 2021

HOUSTON -- Astros pitching coach Brent Strom said Tuesday that left-handed starter has progressed to the point he’s ready to start facing hitters. Valdez fractured his left ring finger fielding a comebacker in his first start of Spring Training on March 2 but managed to avoid surgery.

Valdez has been rehabbing in West Palm Beach, Fla., since then and has thrown off the mound. Strom keeps in touch with Valdez personally and said the left-hander was extremely excited by his progress. So much so that the Astros have had to rein him in a little bit.

“He is way ahead of schedule,” Strom said. “Anybody who’s been around Framber [knows] he is very resilient, a strong young man who has a high threshold of pain and really wants to get back here desperately. So much to the point he’s trying to press this faster than our medical field really wants him to.”

Strom said Valdez is throwing fastballs and spinning curveballs and mixing in some changeups off the mound.

“Now he’s going to have to obviously face some hitters and put some intensity into it and see how his finger holds up and how his body holds up,” Strom said.

Strom estimated that Valdez would need two or three outings in which he faces hitters in West Palm Beach to build up his arm strength and pitch count. He said if Valdez can throw five innings in Florida, that could set him up to rejoin the Astros shortly afterwards.

“Getting Framber back as soon as possible would really give a boost to this club,” Strom said.

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.

A week after Valdez injured his finger, the Astros signed free agent pitcher Jake Odorizzi, who landed on the injured list Monday with a right pronator muscle strain. Odorizzi was 0-2 with a 10.13 ERA in three starts, allowing nine runs and 10 hits in eight innings this year with Houston.