January 29, 2023

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'Bulldog' Valdez twirls 2-hit complete game

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OAKLAND — Never before had Astros lefty Framber Valdez started a game in his career and pitched into the ninth inning. So when he sprinted from the Oakland Coliseum dugout to the mound in the middle of the ninth inning on a sun-splashed Monday afternoon, he was a little bit amped up. 

Valdez, who had thrown 93 pitches through eight innings, needed three more outs to throw the Astros’ first complete game in nearly a year. A leadoff walk to nine-hole hitter Cristian Pache created some anxious moments, but Valdez retired the next three batters to get all 27 outs in the Astros’ 5-1 win over the A’s.

“It feels good,” Valdez said. “It was a challenge I hadn’t done before and a goal of mine, one of the goals I told myself I wanted to do, one of many. I want to continue hitting those goals.” 

Valdez relied mostly on his sinker (39 pitches), curveball (36) and changeup (24), getting eight of his 13 swings and misses on his curveball.

“Valdez is a bulldog,” A’s manager Mark Kotsay said. “That’s a bulldog right there. That guy, really impressive day on his end. Breaking ball is a weapon, and he’s got 95 mph in the ninth inning at pitch No. [113]. Tough day for us, offensively. But you have to tip your cap to the opposing starter.”

Valdez began the ninth at 93 pitches and with no one warming up in the bullpen, the game was his. That changed after he walked Pache, who battled for seven pitches, including five curveballs. Astros manager Dusty Baker got closer Ryan Pressly up just in case, but he wasn’t needed.

“You know, his pitch count was kind of low ‘til that leadoff guy,” Baker said. “He kept throwing him all those breaking balls and ended up walking him. He’s a strong individual. He wanted a complete game. We asked him, ‘How do you feel?’ and he goes, ‘I’m feeling great.’”

Valdez (5-2) allowed two hits — both of which came in the sixth inning — one run and three walks while striking out seven batters for his second career complete game. His other came on June 26, 2021, when he threw six innings in a loss at Detroit in a seven-inning game. On Monday, he threw a career-high 114 pitches and cemented his reputation as a workhorse starter.

The last Astros starter to throw a nine-inning complete game was Zack Greinke on June 4, 2021 against Toronto in Buffalo, N.Y.

“He wanted it,” Baker said. “We didn’t think his health was in jeopardy, and so that’s why we sent him back out there and saved our bullpen. We can go with a full bullpen tomorrow and the next day, and then we have an off day [Thursday].”

In his last seven starts, Valdez is 4-1 with a 2.02 ERA and 1.00 WHIP, each of which has been a quality start of at least six innings and three runs or fewer allowed. He’s thrown at least seven innings in his last four starts, and the Astros have won each of his last five starts.

“I feel good, I feel inspired,” Valdez said. “I started the season well, thankfully, and just hope I can continue to stay focused and pitch well.”

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