BOSTON -- Not many opponents or pitchers have been able to consistently hold down the Red Sox this season. However, the Houston Astros and their lefty, Framber Valdez, have worked their way into that category.
In a repeat of last week’s festivities in Houston, the Astros took it to the Red Sox, 7-1, in Tuesday night’s opener of a three-game series at Fenway Park. The loss snapped Boston's five-game winning streak.
When Houston snagged three out of four at Minute Maid Park a week ago, the only answer the Red Sox really had was Martín Pérez, who fired 7 2/3 shutout innings in Boston’s lone victory on getaway day.
This time, Pérez struggled mightily. In fact, he didn’t make it to the third inning.
Over two innings, the lefty was pounded for six hits and six runs while walking three. It was a far cry from the way Pérez had pitched over his previous seven starts, when he had a 1.98 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP.
“I didn’t have my best stuff tonight. So I think my two-seamer, I was trying to throw it inside too much,” said Pérez. “When I tried to throw good pitches, they hit it. That’s one of the nights you’ve got to go out there and compete no matter what and I couldn’t go deep in the game. I just didn’t have my best stuff tonight.”
Perhaps getting a second look at Pérez so quickly after he handcuffed them was of help to the Astros.
“Yeah, I think that’s what happens at this level,” Pérez said. “When they see something they can hit, they’re going to do it and not wait. That happened to me tonight and I’ll come early tomorrow and figure out a couple things that I think I was not doing OK. But that’s part of the game. Bad outing, bad day, but just turn the page and come back tomorrow and be ready for the next one, be ready for Sunday.”
Then there was Valdez, who had no problem facing the same team in the span of less than a week. He completely held down the Boston bats for the second straight start. After allowing one run over seven innings in Houston last week, Valdez went 7 1/3 this time, allowing the same paltry run total.
“I mean, [Valdez] was good. He was good. We hit some balls hard, too. Better at-bats than the last one,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. “You've just got to be disciplined with the breaking ball with him. His breaking ball is that good. It's one of the best breaking balls in the big leagues. If you expand with it, you're in trouble.”
The one missed opportunity the Red Sox regretted most came in the bottom of the fifth inning, when they had runners at the corners with nobody out. Bobby Dalbec and Christian Arroyo both struck out and Rafael Devers grounded out.
“There were certain situations, we didn't put the ball in play. He got it both ways to righties, sinking away and burying that breaking ball to you,” said Cora. “He doesn't walk that many guys, but I believe it's not actually that he throws a lot of strikes. It's guys chasing pitches.
“Like I told you last week, we chased 38 percent of the pitches against him. If you do that, it's going to be tough to beat him. We felt the at-bats were better than last week -- Xander [Bogaerts] hit a rocket, [Hunter] Renfroe did, too, I think, but he was good overall.”
Dalbec continues to struggle in his rookie season -- showing flashes of potential, such as when he hit a mammoth homer in New York on Saturday night -- but typically reverting back into a funk. He struck out in three of his four at-bats and left four on base. The right-handed hitter has a .185 average and a .595 OPS.
“It's tough right now,” said Cora. “He can get hot. We keep talking about making adjustments, being on time, pitch recognition, discipline in the zone. But lately it's been hard, especially against lefties, too. He’s had struggles controlling the strike zone against them. It started here against Atlanta, then against the Marlins, same thing.
“It happened today. Just one of those, as a young player, he's chasing hits. We talked about it last week. You have to chase good at-bats.”
With two games left in this series, the Red Sox hope they can reverse the narrative of what has been a largely unfavorable matchup thus far in which the Astros have outscored them, 26-10.
“We haven't hit [against Houston],” said Cora. “Obviously they put seven on the board, but four out of the five games, we haven't hit. They do that to a lot of teams. I don't think it's that they're better than us or we're better than them, I just feel like we haven't hit.”
Interestingly, Cora credited Astros catcher Martín Maldonado for a lot of Houston’s success against Boston over the past week.
“He does a good job behind the plate,” Cora said. “Sometimes I believe hitters start thinking with him and you fall into his trap. At the end of the day, we've got to look for pitches in the middle of the zone. We cannot chase him around the zone, because if you do that, you play into the trap.”