Although the Astros hadn’t employed the opener strategy yet this season, a setback in Brad Peacock’s recovery and Valdez’s recent struggles made it the most viable option. Valdez, who has worked as both a starter and reliever this year, had difficulties in the first inning of his last couple of starts, and manager AJ Hinch thought that using an opener may help the left-hander avoid some of those issues, particularly against the Angels.
“We wanna give a different look to him, if for no other reason than just to give him a break from the pressure of the first inning,” Hinch said prior to Monday’s game. “You’re facing the best hitters, you’re trying to get into the game, and hopefully this will alleviate some of that.
“The other side of it is the Angels are incredibly good at the beginning of games. The first inning, the second inning, the third inning is when they do a lot of damage.”
Things started off on the right note, with opener Josh James holding up his end of the bargain by setting the top of the Angels’ lineup down in order, albeit a 1-2-3 that was missing Mike Trout, who is day to day with a right calf strain.
Valdez took over after the first, and he never really seemed to get comfortable. He allowed a couple of two-out baserunners in the second, gave up a leadoff home run in the third and had multi-run rallies mounted against him in the fourth and fifth, hurting his cause with a throwing error on a forceout attempt. Valdez was replaced in the sixth inning, having given up seven runs (four earned) on six hits and four walks with four strikeouts.
“Certainly, I feel disappointed right now,” Valdez said through an interpreter. “It’s not what I’ve been accustomed to. It’s not what I did last year. The last couple of starts have been tough. You can’t deny that it’s been disappointing so far.”
It’s been tough for Valdez, who had a strong start to his Major League career, posting a 2.19 ERA in eight games (five starts) last season. Valdez hopes that looking to the past may help him figure things out for the future.
“I’ll continue to do my routine, but also make adjustments,” said Valdez. “Continue to look at what I was doing last year, and trying to apply what I did last year to what I want to do going forward this year.”
It may be too late for Valdez to showcase any adjustments as a starter for the Astros, though.
“I’m not sure if Framber gets another shot in the rotation,” said Hinch. “We’ll see how it goes.”
Valdez’s poor outing puts the Astros in a bit of a bind. Their rotation has been thinned by injuries, and their pitching usage on Monday will impact their pitching plans for Tuesday. According to Hinch, they’ll now be going with an opener on Tuesday, while also bolstering the bullpen by calling up a pitcher. He was not yet ready to name either.
A tough night for Astros pitchers obscured something encouraging: Springer’s pair of home runs. Springer’s first homer was a two-run shot in the sixth, followed by a solo shot in the eighth in his next at-bat. That brought his season total to 20.
Springer, who missed about a month with a left hamstring strain, had hit just one home run in 14 games since returning from the injured list. Something finally seemed to click for him on Monday night.
“I honestly think I was just able to finally square some balls up,” said Springer. “It’s hard to hit in this league, and I missed a lot of time, I understand that. It’s just kind of all about being patient, just understanding that your swing will eventually come back, so it’s just been all about just grinding it out.”
Could this be a turning point for Springer, power-wise?
“I hope so,” said Springer. “It’s a good day for me, personally. But I don’t really care. The ultimate goal is obviously to win, so I don’t really care about the home runs.”
Monday was the 10th multihomer game of Springer’s career, and his second of 2019, the other being a two-homer game vs. Texas on May 12.