Valdez goes the distance, dedicates CG to Javier

June 8th, 2024

HOUSTON -- Earlier Friday, Astros left-hander spoke to close friend and teammate Cristian Javier, who was a day removed from Tommy John surgery and still processing the magnitude of missing the rest of the season and the recovery ahead.

Valdez told him to not worry, that he was going to take the ball against the Angels and pitch a gem. Javier must have been smiling from ear to ear after Valdez threw a complete game, allowing one run and four hits, to lead the Astros to a 7-1 win in the series opener at Angel Stadium.

“I dedicate it to Cristian Javier,” he said. “I talked to him earlier today and I told him, ‘Hey, I’m going to throw a really good game today because we needed it.’ He’s one of my teammates and he’s not here at the moment; we miss him, but I told him I’m going to throw a good game.”

Valdez needed 106 pitches and a diving stop of a line drive from shortstop Jeremy Peña for the final out to finish off his first complete game since he no-hit Cleveland on Aug. 1, 2023. He was also backed by a five-run outburst in the seventh inning, which consisted of a three-run double by Yordan Alvarez and two-run homer from Yainer Diaz, who has homered in four consecutive games.

“It was a very important play,” Valdez said of Peña’s grab. “We needed it, obviously, to close the game out. It was super important and I was super excited, and I’m proud of him there, to be able to make the play when the team needed him the most to be able to close that game out.”

Valdez got 19 swings and misses while relying mostly on his sinker (61 pitches thrown) and curveball (32), which generated 10 whiffs. He also got five whiffs on his changeup. He got 13 ground-ball outs.

“He just stayed with his sinker tonight,” Angels manager Ron Washington said. “Threw a couple of breaking balls, but for the most part, he stayed with his sinker. That's how he got the 13 ground balls. He was on his game tonight. If we had a chance in that game tonight, it would've had to be a close one."

Valdez said his curveball was “behaving,” which meant he had great command.

“When the pitch is misbehaving, I can’t throw it for a strike sometimes, but today, I was able to throw it where I wanted to,” he said. “I threw it outside the zone when I wanted to. Today, it behaved.”

Valdez has posted a 2.05 ERA and 0.82 WHIP in 22 innings across three starts since he imploded against the Angels on May 20, blowing a six-run lead. In that game, Valdez gave up eight runs, including seven in the fifth, and later said he strayed from the game plan and wasn’t on the same page as Diaz, who was catching.

“There’s always motivation,” Valdez said. “It doesn’t matter who we’re playing or who the opponent is. Obviously, the team as a whole, we all have motivation to go out there and do a really good job.”

Valdez entered the ninth inning at 88 pitches and with Rafael Montero warming up in the bullpen. He was at 104 pitches after a two-out walk to Taylor Ward. When Kevin Pillar, who had homered off Valdez in the second inning, came to the plate with two outs, he was Valdez’s final hitter, manager Joe Espada later admitted.

“He was really good,” Espada said. “Just that homer to Pillar, and then after that he just threw the ball really well. The breaking ball today made a big difference, that curveball. He was efficient with ground balls and had the one walk in the ninth. Really good performance.”

Diaz, who homered to left field off Angels reliever Hunter Strickland as the designated hitter, became the first Astros player to homer in four games in a row since Yuli Gurriel, who homered in five consecutive in July 2019. José Abreu also homered for the Astros in the eighth inning.

“I feel like I’m starting to hit the ball a lot better now and I’m starting to calm myself more at the plate,” Diaz said.