ANAHEIM -- Just like his first career relief appearance five days earlier, Framber Valdez was victorious in his first career start on Sunday to finish a sweep of the Angels with a 3-1 Astros win. It allowed the Astros to maintain a 1 1/2-game lead in the American League West
ANAHEIM -- Just like his first career relief appearance five days earlier, Framber Valdez was victorious in his first career start on Sunday to finish a sweep of the Angels with a 3-1 Astros win. It allowed the Astros to maintain a 1 1/2-game lead in the American League West over the Athletics, who also won Sunday.
The 24-year-old southpaw held the Angels to one run and two hits over five innings, striking out three and walking three in the Players' Weekend finale. Valdez's ERA in the Majors now sits at 0.96, and his record sits at 2-0 through two appearances.
:: Players' Weekend presented by Valspar Stain ::
"His ball really moves, somewhat uncontrollable for him, hard to catch for [Max] Stassi, hard to hit for their guys," Astros manager AJ Hinch said. "Some really funny swings in some hitters' counts, and I think maybe two balls hit hard the whole day. Had a little trouble with the leadoff walk in a couple innings, which can come with some nerves."
• Shop for Players' Weekend gear
Valdez and the Astros got all the offense they needed in a three-run third inning, scoring on a bases-loaded single from Carlos Correa (I Am Groot) and another RBI single from Marwin Gonzalez (MarGo).
Valdez, who posted a 4.11 ERA and 129 strikeouts in 103 Minor League innings this season, cruised through the first four innings, with no Angel reaching second base. After an abbreviated rally in the fifth netted the Angels a run against Valdez, the Astros' bullpen took over.
Brad Peacock (P), Hector Rondon (Rondy) and Roberto Osuna combined for five strikeouts and two hits allowed across four shutout innings, with Osuna getting his 11th save (second with Houston).
Valdez featured a lively fastball throughout his start, something he needed due to a curveball that Hinch said wasn't getting called for a strike on Sunday. Per Statcast™, Valdez maxed out at 95.8 mph in an at-bat against Jose Pujols.
"I felt great pitching. I felt more confident than before," Valdez said. "Definitely felt faster with the fastball today. Also felt like I'm more used to the Major League ball, so that really helped me as well."
Most notably, Valdez -- the Astros' No. 11 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline -- faced Angels superstar Michael Trout (Kiiiiid) and came away triumphant both times, inducing a groundout to end the first inning and striking him out swinging to open the fourth. Given that Trout entered the game with a 1.111 OPS against left-handers, two outs was no mean feat. Trout finished 0-for-4 in only the fifth game he's struck out three times this season.
"I know we got a couple calls our way, and then had some really good finish pitches up in the zone," Hinch said. "You go down in the zone to him, you're asking for it. So if you can elevate at a time where he's a little bit defensive. We did something different to him almost every at-bat to get to the put-away pitch."
With his single in the third inning in the middle of the Astros' three-run rally, Alex Bregman (A-Breg) extended his MLB-leading road on-base streak to 45 games. That ranks second in Astros history, behind only Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell's 51-game run across the 1998-99 seasons. More >>
HE SAID IT
"He's never been more excited to get in a game and strike out." -- Hinch, on George Springer making his first appearance since Aug. 19 due to left quad soreness. Springer is expected to be in the lineup for the Astros' game on Monday.
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
It looked like Jose Altuve (Tuve) had stolen his team-leading 16th base of the season against Angels reliever Richard Parker (B-Easy) in the eighth inning, but the Angels challenged the safe call at second. The call was overturned, erasing a runner in scoring position with the second out of the frame.
Locked in a tight AL West race, the first-place Astros open a three-game series against the Athletics on Monday (7:10 p.m. CT) at Minute Maid Park, with Gerrit Cole on the mound opposite left-hander Brett Anderson. Cole, who is three strikeouts behind teammate Justin Verlander for the AL lead, is 2-0 with a 2.92 ERA in four starts against Oakland this year.
Jack Baer is a contributor to MLB.com based in Southern California.