Valdez gave the Astros their best outing by a starting pitcher this season by tying career highs in innings pitched (seven), strikeouts (nine) and pitches (103) -- all of which are tops by a Houston starter in 2020. He allowed two runs (one earned on a leadoff homer by Marcus Semien), which was all the A’s needed to send the struggling Astros to their fourth consecutive loss, 3-1, on Saturday afternoon at the Coliseum.
“Framber’s awesome,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “He hung one slider to Semien to start the game off and then after that, he was dealing. He gave us what we needed to try to stay in the game and gave our bullpen a needed rest, because we’ll be much stronger tomorrow than we were today. If he hadn’t gone deep [into the game], we’d have been really upside down. He gave us a chance to come back stronger tomorrow.”
A’s starter Frankie Montas outdueled Valdez by holding the Astros to two hits while striking out five batters in seven innings. The loss dropped Houston to 4 1/2 games behind Oakland in the American League West.
Valdez, who allowed one run in 6 1/3 innings in relief on Sunday against the Angels, gave up the homer to Semien and then took control of the A’s lineup. After yielding consecutive singles in the first, he set down 13 of the next 14 hitters he faced. Oakland pushed across an unearned run in the sixth on a pair of errors by Houston’s defense.
“Other than that, the only thing he would have given up is the home run to lead off the game, and [it's] usually not the home run that beats you, but it beat us today," Baker said.
Valdez’s improved control was tantamount to his success. He threw 69 of 103 pitches for strikes on Saturday and walked one batter. Coming into the season, he has averaged 5.3 walks per nine innings in his Major League career.
“I just made a mistake with that first at-bat, it was the hanging curveball,” Valdez said. “I made an adjustment with that pitch. I kept it down after that and didn’t hang it again later in the game. I felt good. I felt like I grabbed the ball and hit the restart button and just was a lot better from that point on. I just had to put it behind me fast.”
Semien marveled at Valdez’s curveball, which he threw 20 times and induced his weakest exit velocity of any of his pitches at 89.3 mph on average. He also got four swings and misses on the pitch.
“He had his changeup working also, which he didn’t throw a lot the last couple times we saw him, so that kept us off-balance,” Semien said. “He’s always had the good sinker, but his curveball was really good today when he kept it down, and that’s what he used with two strikes most of the time.”
Coming off a pair of strong starts, rookie right-hander Cristian Javier (1-0, 1.42 ERA) will face the A's at 3:10 p.m. CT in the series finale at the Coliseum, live on MLB.TV. Javier picked up his first career win on Tuesday in Arizona, allowing one run and four hits in six innings in his second Major League start. In three outings (two starts), he’s allowed 4.97 hits per nine innings with 11 strikeouts and two walks. Lefty Jesús Luzardo (0-0, 2.31 ERA) will start for Oakland.