DETROIT -- Houston Astros left-hander Framber Valdez was bouncing a baseball off the clubhouse wall, getting loose before beginning his pre-game ritual.
“Go get ‘em, Frambo!” said Astros manager Dusty Baker on his way to the field at Comerica Park.
"Go get ‘em” was just what Valdez did in a 7-0 win over the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park on Monday night. He fired his first career shutout and continued being as dependable as two-time Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom and Hall of Fame legend Bob Gibson at their best.
Valdez tied deGrom’s single-season MLB record with his 24th consecutive quality start.
deGrom set his mark in 2018, before stretching it to 26 straight to start the 2019 season. Gibson also made 26 straight quality starts in 1967-68. After tying deGrom's single-season record, the overall 26-start streak is the last mark Valdez is chasing.
“It is big for me,” Valdez said of the streak through interpreter Jenloy Herrera. “It just shows me that a lot of the hard work I’ve put in, these are the results I’ve been getting.”
“You know, he’s on a roll. And when you’re on a roll, you get positive thoughts and good things happen," Baker said. "He threw a great game …who knows if he’ll ever be back to this point again? I mean, that’s a tough streak to keep going. It’s a monumental streak. It tied the all-time record.”
Valdez allowed six hits and one walk while striking out eight.
What did that first shutout mean to him?
“It means a lot to me,” Valdez said after throwing 107 pitches (72 strikes). “It is one of those goals I had for myself, and something that’s going to help me a lot in the future.”
Valdez had some control issues in the first inning, reaching three 2-0 counts and issuing what would become his lone walk, but he hit his spots after that.
“It was just the mentality there,” he said. “I lost a little focus, and I just told myself I’ve got to get more focus and attack the strike zone. Thankfully, I was able to get through the whole start walking just one batter.”
“Most real good pitchers, you’ve got to get them early," Baker said. "[Max] Scherzer, J.V. [Houston ace Justin Verlander], [Steve] Carlton, [Tom] Seaver. If you don’t get them early, if they escape, then they tend to shut you down.”
Against Detroit, Valdez’s curveball was lethal.
“His first couple innings, it wasn’t as great,” said catcher Martín Maldonado. “But he got a better feel for that curveball and the cutter. He used it a lot, and his fastball-changeup got a lot of ground balls.”
Baker said Valdez's eventual command of his breaking ball was key, and that he also commanded his fastball well.
Valdez got Jonathan Schoop to chase a curve in the dirt for a third strike in the fifth, and then got Victor Reyes to strike out swinging on another curve well below the strike zone. He froze Javier Báez with a curve in the middle of the plate in the ninth.
Valdez exceeded 20 starts for the first time in 2021, going 11-6 with a 3.14 ERA in 22 starts after making just 10 starts in the shortened '20 season. He's improved his ERA every year since '19, from 5.86 to 3.57 to 3.14 to this year's 2.50. So what has allowed him to make those strides?
“It’s the focus,” said Maldonado. “We always knew he had the stuff.”
Baker said that in his two years managing the Astros, he's also seen Valdez make great strides in maturity.
The statement Valdez is making is that he’s not just the second-best starter for the best team in the American League (91-50), but that he’s also one of the best hurlers in the game. And while Verlander has dominated the AL Cy Young Award conversation, Valdez (15-5) is starting to make himself known as well.
“He should be in the mix,’’ said Maldonado. “He should be on that list. His name should come up.”
Two-time Cy Young Award winner Verlander (16-3, 1.84 ERA) is expected to return from a right calf injury with a start in the four-game weekend series against the Oakland Athletics in Houston.
Brown, who pitched six scoreless innings in his MLB debut against the Texas Rangers, starts Tuesday night for Houston in the ballpark he grew up attending. He starred at nearby Lakeview High School in St. Claire Shores, Mich., and at Wayne State University in Detroit.
Houston also turned in some defensive gems to assure Valdez kept those runs off the scoreboard. The Astros threw two Detroit runners out at the plate, one on a 91.6 mph throw from Yordan Alvarez to nab Willi Castro trying to score from second on a single.
“Framber depends on defense,” said Baker. “I mean, he can strike you out. But he depends on defense like a lot of pitchers do. And that’s one thing we take pride in -- defense.”