WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The Astros have not named an Opening Day starter, but common sense says it will be Framber Valdez for the second straight season.
As good as Cristian Javier was last season, he would be an unlikely choice at this point in his career for such a honored title as an opening day starter, as would Luis Garcia and José Urquidy.
Astros manager Dusty Baker said he’s not ready to make anything official yet, but admitted Valdez would “probably” be her boyfriend on opening day.
The 29-year-old lefty made his fourth start of the spring Saturday night against Max Scherzer and the Mets. With Opening Day less than two weeks away, he’ll likely get another start before the regular season kicks off on March 30.
“Just general health,” Baker said when asked what he wanted to see from Valdez in those final two spring starts. “Framber is strong. He works hard, trains hard and it’s important that we keep our rookies healthy. The healthier they are, the healthier our bullpen will most likely be.”
If he gets the nod on March 30, Valdez will be the 11th pitcher in franchise history to get the Opening Day nod in consecutive seasons. Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel and Roy Oswalt are the only ones to do this in the last 20 years.
Since making his debut in 2018, Valdez has put together three consecutive excellent seasons, but he topped them all by going 17-6 with a 2.82 ERA last year, which was enough for him to make his first team All- Star and finish fifth in American League Cy Young Award voting.
“This guy has been amazing,” Baker said. “He has really matured as a player and as a person. Making the All-Star team has meant a lot to him. Starting in the World Series has meant a lot to him. He is gaining valuable experience in a short period of time.”
In addition to sparkling numbers, Valdez was a workhorse, leading the American League with 201.1 innings pitched — not to mention 25 innings he pitched in the postseason — the first time he’s pitched 135+ innings in a season .
It doesn’t seem to be a major concern for Baker.
“We don’t know what effect it will have on Framber,” Baker said. “It helps that Framber has that sinker and throws two to three double plays a game. That’ll save the pitch count.”