John McClain: Valdez ready to assume role as the ace of Astros’ pitching staff

Mandatory Credit: Photo by David J Phillip/AP/Shutterstock (13441319i) Houston Astros starting pitcher Framber Valdez is congratulated in the dugout after pitching the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies, in Houston Phillies Astros Baseball, Houston, United States – 05 Oct 2022

John McClain: Valdez ready to assume role as the ace of Astros’ pitching staff

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – With American League Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander relocating to New York to pitch for the Mets, Framber Valdez is preparing to step up a spot in the rotation and become the ace of the Astros’ staff. He’s not trying to replace the irreplaceable Verlander, but he is ready to assume the role as the Astros’ best and most dependable starting pitcher.

Valdez, 29, has earned the distinction that comes with the promotion. Last season, when he finished fifth in the AL Cy Young voting, Valdez fashioned a 17-6 record with a 2.82 earned run average. He led American League pitchers with 201.1 innings pitched and set an MLB record by compiling 25 consecutive quality starts in one season.

“I definitely feel a responsibility,” Valdez said through an interpreter this week. “I don’t think I feel pressure in that regard. Obviously, we have a lot of great pitchers, and I want to try to lead those guys. I feel very responsible for that. I know there’ll be a little weight to carry, but it’s something I’m willing to do, and I look forward to it.”

Valdez was even more exceptional in the Astros’ World Series run that culminated in a second championship in which Valdez – and not Verlander – was the ace of the postseason pitching staff. In four playoff starts, Valdez finished with a 3-0 record, a 1.61 ERA, and a .144 opponent batting average. He pitched at least six innings in all four starts, and the Astros won each game.

Valdez led the Astros past the Phillies in six games to earn their second World Series title. He was 2-0 with a 1.46 ERA, pitching 12.1 innings, allowing six hits and two earned runs, and striking out 18.

“I’m going to continue to work hard like I have the last couple of years,” he said. “I want to continue working hard and trying to improve everything I do.

I thank God for giving me this opportunity and putting me in these situations, and continue supporting the team as best I can.”

Valdez is in position to earn a lucrative payday. He avoided arbitration by signing a one-year contract for $6.8 million. That represented a $3.8 million raise. After new general manager Dana Brown was hired before spring training, he said he hopes to get Valdez, Kyle Tucker, Alex Bregman, and Jose Altuve to sign contract extensions.

“It feels good that he’s thinking of me and good things are being said,” Valdez said about Brown’s comments. “That’s one of the things that would be good for my career, but I’ll let my agent handle it. Those things are out of my hands. It’s something that definitely feels good. The Astros are a great organization, and it would make me feel good to be here a lot longer.”

Valdez is eager to make the Astros’ Opening Day start against the White Sox on March 30. He’d love a repeat of last season when he pitched the first game against the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani. Valez threw 6.2 scoreless innings, igniting a 3-1 victory.

“It’s something that would be very important to me, something I wouldn’t take for granted,” he said. “This would be my second (Opening Day start) for the Astros, and it would mean a lot for me and for my career as well.”

Valdez wanted to pitch for the Dominican Republic, his native country, in the upcoming World Baseball Classic, but the Astros asked him not to. He’s disappointed but understands their reasoning.

“Obviously, that was a decision the team made,” he said. “Some of the reasons they gave me were I threw a lot of innings last year, and it was a very short offseason. They preferred me to be here. I took that in a positive way, came here and tried to continue working hard and getting ready for the season.”

New MLB rules this season are being implemented in spring training. Valdez, who likes to take extra time on the mound to take deep breaths and become focused, has to work with a pitch clock. With no runners on base, pitchers will have 15 seconds to deliver the ball – 20 if a runner is on base. Valdez will have to work faster.

“I don’t think it’ll be that difficult,” he said. “I’m working right now on it in the bullpen (sessions) to see how long it takes between pitches, so when it comes to the season, it won’t be an issue.”

Manager Dusty Baker believes Valdez will have to go through an adjustment period during the spring training schedule that begins Saturday against the Mets.

“It’s going to affect him,” Baker said. “It’s not only going to affect guys like him that have to regroup (after pitches), but it’s going to affect everybody when you have to regroup because you’re conscious of the (pitch) clock. We’re experimenting with it in spring training so these guys get used to it. You don’t have a choice but to adhere to the rules. The sooner you get accustomed to doing things, the easier we’ll adjust.”

Like his teammates at spring training, Valdez was asked about the possibility of the Astros winning a second consecutive World Series.

“I don’t think it’s going to be that difficult to do,” he said. “It’s something we’ve already done twice, and we know what it takes. When we go through hard times, we know what it takes to get through them. We don’t get rattled, and we know what we need to do to get back there.”

(John McClain writes four columns a week for He can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on Sports Radio 610 and Thursday on Texans Radio. He does three weekly Houtopia podcasts for 610. He also can be read three times a week on

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