Astros’ Valdez hurls a hyper-efficient no-hitter

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Framber Valdez bounced back perfectly Tuesday, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for the Houston Astros.

Valdez threw the third no-hitter of this MLB season to lead the Astros to a 2-0 win over the Cleveland Guardians at Minute Maid Park. Valdez faced the minimum 27 batters, recorded seven strikeouts and threw 93 pitches in the win, the fourth-fewest pitches needed in a no-hitter since 1901.

It marked the 16th no-hitter in Astros history and the first solo no-hitter since Justin Verlander threw one in 2019.

“We have plans for this to be our best month and this is the way to start it off.”

The defending champions indeed have reasons to speak with confidence. Valdez’s no-hitter came just hours after the Astros reacquired Verlander in a deal with the New York Mets before Tuesday’s trade deadline. Verlander brings a 3.15 ERA to the place where he shined for five seasons with two Cy Young Awards on two championship teams.

“I’m trying not to come out here smiling too much,” Baker said before Valdez’s historic start. “We’re glad we got JV back.”

The Astros hold a 61-47 record and sit a half-game behind the Rangers in the AL West. With Verlander now on board and Valdez’s struggles behind him, the Astros are in great position to make a meaningful run the rest of the way this summer. A return trip to the World Series in their title defense, which would mark their fifth appearance in seven years, doesn’t feel out of reach.

Houston had two combined no-hitters last season, including one in the World Series. Valdez is the first left-handed pitcher to accomplish the feat in team history.

The Guardians, on the other hand, have now been no-hit 15 times — five of which have occurred since the start of the 2021 season. They haven’t thrown a no-hitter since 1981, the longest drought in the league.

“I thought the ball came out of his hands about as good as we’ve seen,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said, via Bally Sports. “It’s a veteran, good lineup … The way that guy was throwing, that’s the ball game.”

Framber Valdez
Framber Valdez needed just 93 pitches to complete the no-hitter on Tuesday night in Houston. (Michael Starghill/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Valdez retired the first 12 batters, half of whom he struck out, to start the game. He walked Oscar Gonzalez to open the fifth inning, but the Astros got out safely, thanks to a double play. After getting through the eighth inning, Valdez got Gabriel Arias on a groundout before Myles Straw flew out to center and Cam Gallagher popped up to shortstop to end the game and complete the no-hitter.

The no-hitter came after a brutal start in Valdez’s previous outing, in which he allowed eight hits and six runs in 3 2/3 innings of a 13-5 loss to the Texas Rangers last week. Valdez held a 7.29 ERA in his four starts in July.

“The last couple of games I just wasn’t as focused as I could have been and I’ll be the first to admit that,” Valdez said in Spanish through a translator. “But today I just came very focused, very positive and just ready to leave it all out on the field.

“When I got to the seventh inning I thought to myself, ‘OK, I can finish this game without any hits. Got to the eighth inning and still felt good, felt like it was still the first inning so I said. `I’m just going to continue attacking the hitters, trying to do my best out there.’”

Valdez now holds a 9-7 record this season, his sixth in the league with the Astros. The 29-year-old was named to his second straight All-Star team this season, and he entered Tuesday with a 3.29 ERA and 134 strikeouts on the year. He has now pitched six complete games, including three shutouts.

The no-hitter is the third of the season in Major League Baseball. Matt Manning and the Detroit Tigers threw a combined no-hitter last month, and the New York Yankees’ Domingo Germán threw a perfect game in June against the Oakland Athletics.

The Astros scored both of their runs in the third inning off a Kyle Tucker RBI single to center field. Houston has won three of its past four games.

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