HOUSTON — Maybe Framber Valdez will regain the terrific form he displayed on Opening Day when he threw 6 2/3 scoreless innings against the Angels. Maybe the command problems he suffered in 2018-19 are again becoming an issue. Or maybe the lefty is caught somewhere in between.
What we do know is the Valdez roller-coaster ride continued Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park, when he allowed six runs, four walks and eight hits in 4 1/3 innings in a 7-2 loss to the Angels. Since his gem against the Angels on April 7 in Anaheim, Valdez has given up nine walks, seven runs and 10 hits in two starts covering 7 1/3 innings.
“He wasn’t as sharp,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “He was getting two strikes on guys and just didn’t put them away tonight. In that one inning, they had some flares in there. It’s not like they were hitting him all over the ballpark. We were hoping for a couple of ground-ball double plays, which we got the ground ball but they found the holes.”
That “one inning” was the fifth, when Valdez retired Shohei Ohtani to start the frame and then gave up four consecutive singles. All four batters would eventually score to give the Angels a 6-1 lead. Taylor Ward’s one-out single to start the barrage was 106.5 mph off the bat, but the next three weren’t hard hit:
Anthony Rendon: 79.7 mph
Matt Duffy: 72.6 mph
Jack Mayfield: 92.5 mph
“Sometimes you have those games,” Baker said. “Sometimes you find it, and sometimes you don’t. Like I said, in that one inning, it’s not like they hit him hard all over the ballpark. It was very low exit speed. It’s not like they were hitting it hard. Sometimes they find holes, and they found holes on him tonight.”
Valdez, who has one of the best curveballs in the game, threw only 17 curves, down from 26 and 29 in his previous two starts. He threw the most changeups he’s thrown (12) this year and threw eight cutters, which he didn’t throw in a shaky start against the D-backs on Wednesday.
“I need to continue working and continue practicing and continue to stay consistent and attack the zone,” Valdez said.
Astros veteran catcher Martín Maldonado said Valdez wasn’t executing pitches and falling behind. The walks, two of which led to runs in the second and fourth, were costly.
“It’s hard to pitch like that,” Maldonado said. “I feel like the first outing, he was attacking the strike zone more, down more in the strike zone. It’s hard for me to see [his] mechanics. I’ll probably look into that tomorrow.”
The Astros were banking heavily on Valdez to be a workhorse in their rotation after he rebounded from missing the first two months of last season to go 11-6 with a 3.14 ERA in 134 2/3 innings. That was coming off a breakout year in which he walked only 16 batters in 70 2/3 innings in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
The early control troubles have to be a bit worrisome for the Astros, but it’s too early in the season to rush to any conclusions.
“Framber, we were hoping that he could find it,” Baker said. “We’ve got to get his endurance up also at the same time. We thought that if Framber found it, he’d be fine.”