Framber Valdez outshines mentor Justin Verlander
Framber Valdez snaps Astros’ five-game losing streak
HOUSTON – After five years under Justin Verlander’s wing, Framber Valdez out-dueled the Astros’ former ace Tuesday before a star-studded crowd at Minute Maid Park.
With Mexico soccer icon Guillermo Ochoa and the entire Honduran national soccer team in attendance, Valdez didn’t falter. The Astros’ ace lefthander flirted with perfection in the much anticipated pitching match-up against the three-time Cy Young Award winner.
Valdez pitched eight brilliant innings of two-run ball to beat Verlander and the Mets 4-2 before a Pride Night crowd of 34,606.
Verlander made three of his 12 career Opening Day starts for Houston prior to having Tommy John Surgery, which caused him to miss all of the 2021 season.
During many appearances in high leverage situations early in his career, Framber Valdez would let the nerves get the best of him. Thanks to meditation and wisdom gained from his peers, he blossomed into an All-Star last year. Valdez notched two World Series wins and finished fifth in the Cy Young voting in 2022.
Steady climb to prominence
The native from Sabana Grande de Palenque, Dominican Republic, proved to be the future for the Astros with consecutive Opening Day starts.
The apprentice out-performed the teacher to even the three-game series at one apiece. Valdez held the Mets to two runs on four hits with a walk and nine strikeouts over eight dominant innings. Verlander, a likely Hall of Famer, allowed four runs on eight hits over seven innings.
Verlander gave up a two-run home run to Alex Bregman and two RBIs to his good friend Jose Altuve. Valdez had everything working for him against his former teammate.
The 5-foot-11 lefty was perfect through five innings. He retired the first 16 batters until Mark Canha came to the batter’s box with one out in the sixth. First baseman Jose Abreu was shifted toward the second. Canha capitalized with a 77.7 mph grounder down the first base line to end the perfect night for Valdez.
“I threw all my (pitches) and mixed all of them,” Valdez said in Spanish. “I was able to throw all of them for strikes and keep the team in a winning position.”
Valdez snapped the World Series champions’ five-game losing streak. The Astros rebounded to strike the 40-win mark with Valdez’s 11th quality start of the season. Astros manager Dusty Baker was relieved that they were able to earn a win for their 29-year-old pitcher and end their losing streak.
Framber Valdez perfect through 5 1/3
“He was great,” Baker said of Valdez. “He had his pitch count relatively low. Looked like he had a chance to throw a complete game shutout, but those guys over there foiled his outing in the eighth. He gave us all he had.
“Last week we gave it up for him, and this one we had to win for him and win it for us.”
In a start in which he relied on his sinker and cutter instead of his traditional curveball, Valdez (7-5, 2.27 ERA) faced the minimum through seven innings. The shutout unraveled for him in the eighth. Tommy Pham led off with a single. Francisco Alvarez doubled. Canha’s sacrifice fly, and Eduardo Escobar’s RBI single drove in the Mets’ two runs.
Valdez, who set the record for consecutive quality starts in a season last year, has been as reliable as ever lately. He is 4-1 with a 1.50 ERA over his last six starts. He has given up only seven earned runs in 42 innings with 39 strikeouts in that span.
His 2.27 ERA is the second best in the majors. Valdez’s 1.00 WHIP is in the top five. With an AL-best 12 quality start, La Grasa is in the CY Young conversation again.
The veteran Verlander may have had the better career. Valdez got the best of the Astros’ former ace in their first duel since they helped the Astros win the franchise’s second World Series title last year.
“I had fun facing Verlander,” Valdez said “I enjoyed myself and I played inspired.”
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