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Astros look for an ace pitching performance vs. Tigers

Sportsnaut
May 1, 2022; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Houston Astros starting pitcher Framber Valdez (59) throws a pitch during first inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Without Lance McCullers Jr. serving as a viable No. 2 behind ace Justin Verlander, the Astros needed the type of pitching performance right-hander Luis Garcia delivered on Friday.

Garcia completed seven innings for the third time in his career and matched his career high with nine strikeouts in the Astros’ 3-2 win over the visiting Detroit Tigers in the second game of a four-game set that resumes Saturday. Houston recently shifted to a six-man rotation to manage a stretch of 33 games over 34 days, but quality starts were required to validate that move.

They have won five games in a row.

The Astros need strong efforts from the likes of Cristian Javier and Garcia, in particular, given their relative inexperience as starters. Garcia finished second in American League Rookie of the Year balloting last season, with his showing against Detroit the latest sign of his burgeoning potential.

Garcia flashed a dominating cutter. Of the 17 swings and misses he generated over 91 pitches, 13 came via his cutter. While he maxed out at 96.6 mph on his four-seam fastball, the cutter made the biggest difference for Garcia, and it will do so moving forward.

“Cutter was nasty,” Garcia said. “I had to figure it out in between innings in the third I think. It was going (poorly). I was behind the ball and then I tried to do it correctly and it worked.”

Said Astros manager Dusty Baker: “It was really good. It had shape to it and depth to it. I couldn’t tell if it was a cutter or a curveball or a slider but he had them off-balanced with it.”

Left-hander Framber Valdez (1-2, 3.42 ERA) has the starting assignment on Saturday as the Astros attempt to secure the series. He is 0-2 with a 4.58 ERA over his past four starts with as many walks as strikeouts (13) in 19? innings. However, Valdez has three quality starts in five appearances this season.

He is 0-1 with a 5.73 ERA over three career appearances (two starts) against the Tigers including a 3-1 road loss on June 26, 2021, during which he allowed three runs on six hits with six strikeouts over six innings.

Left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez (0-2, 5.33) is the scheduled starter for the Tigers on Saturday. He allowed six runs (including a season-high four earned runs) on eight hits with five strikeouts over 5 2/3 innings in his previous start, a 6-3 road loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers on May 1. Rodriguez has recorded fewer than three earned runs once in his five starts this season, his first with the Tigers.

He is 1-3 with an 8.53 ERA over six career starts against the Astros.

On a night where the Astros finished 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position while stranding nine baserunners, Detroit mustered two hits and went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position on Friday.

Shortstop Javier Baez was the Tigers’ final baserunner. He reached on an error in the third, and the Tigers had just two hits.

“We’ve tried to tell them not to try and make everything up in one swing,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “It’s pretty natural when you’re playing just well enough to lose or not hitting just enough to win. Guys want to do too much. Everybody wants to be a hero, everybody wants to do more.

“The work’s being put in (but) the results aren’t on the field. I don’t know any other way to describe it other than we’ve got to keep fighting to do better.”

–Field Level Media