Houston Astros ace Framper Valdez admitted he gets excited when he has to oppose Angels pitcher Shohei Ohtani. The same probably couldn’t be said for Otani about facing Valdez, who outplayed him on Friday night for the second time in less than a month.
Valdez notched his fourth straight win by throwing seven scoreless innings, allowing five hits while striking out seven batters, to defeat Otani and the Angels, 6-2, Friday night at Minute Maid Park. Otani’s two hits of the season came against Valdez, who threw eight innings with a one-run ball on May 9 in Anaheim.
“I definitely get excited sometimes when I go up against Otani,” Valdez said. “Obviously he’s probably the best player in the league right now – the best player in the league. But as I go up there, I see it’s like I’m beating against his team-mates, and my team-mates are also helping me beat him as well. Don’t try to focus on his method.” His pitch. He’s just like me, trying to get out there and throw batters and throw them into the middle of the plate and get out too. Luckily our guys today were able to get him.”
Yordan Alvarez slammed a two-run homer off Ohtani in the first inning, making him the first major league player to reach 50 RBIs this season. Corey Goulkes added a two-run homer in the sixth to put the Astros ahead, 5–0. Otani (5-2) gave up five runs and hit six batters in six innings.
“It started with Alvarez, and then eventually got fed up and hung up the pitch on Gulux,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “That was most of our runs. How did we get to him? Nobody gets him much. We were lucky we didn’t miss pitches when we had the chance to hit him.”
A homer by Alvarez was the first of his career against Otani. Seven of his 15 homers this year have given the Astros a lead.
“He’s an outside horse,” Valdez said, “and when he steps into the battering box he has to be scared.” “Pitchers who get up into the hitting zone know who he is, and it hasn’t really surprised me what he’s been doing since the start of the season. He’s a really good hitter.”
Valdez (6-4) proved to be an escape artist on Friday, striking out Otani and Mike Trout to finish third and stranding a pair of runners. He caught a key double play to end the fourth game after giving up two singles to start the inning. To complete the seventh inning, he singled a bases-loaded final double play on a sinker.
“He was great,” said Baker, “getting trouble with those double balls like he usually does, and that saved some of his pitches.” “You could tell it was hot in there. Framper was sweating, and Otani was sweating. They both had a little bit of gas.”
In his past five starts with the win over the Angels on May 9, Valdez has gone 4-0 with a 1.59 ERA and 0.85 WHIP, with the Astros going 5-0 in the period. In his last three starts, Valdez was 3-0 with a 0.41 ERA and 0.77 WHIP, allowing to run in 22 innings with 19 strikeouts and four walks.
“In the past, we’d say put the ball down, and when the guys swung, we didn’t understand why,” said Angels coach Phil Nevin. But with technology now, we know [Valdez’s sinker] He has a ride and seems to be in a certain place, but he’s not. It’s obviously very difficult ground.”
Valdez entered Friday with a 65.9 percent ground ball, the most in the majors since 2018 (with a minimum of 300 runs), so when he caught three fly balls in the first inning, it raised eyebrows. It was soon returned to Valdez, though, who didn’t get another one the rest of the game.
Valdez said his 96.4-mph home run to lead Chad Wallach to a 6-4-3 double play on his 92nd and final pitch of the night was probably his best of the game. Maybe that’s why he came out of the mound with a big smile on his face. Hitting Ohtani again also didn’t hurt.
“I felt really good today,” he said. “I felt calm and focused.”
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