HOUSTON (AP) — Framber Valdez was determined to improve this month after a subpar July where he posted a 7.29 ERA.
On the first day of August he certainly did that.
Valdez threw the 16th no-hitter in Houston Astros history in a 2-0 victory over the Cleveland Guardians on Tuesday night.
“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.”
Hours after the Astros reacquired ace Justin Verlander from the New York Mets, Valdez allowed just one baserunner on a walk in the fifth inning, but still faced the minimum thanks to a double play in that frame. He threw 93 pitches, with 65 strikes.
“It’s a wonderful day,” manager Dusty Baker said. “(Valdez) started out with a bang. He had his breaking ball from the very beginning … and you could tell he was on and he stayed on.”
Gabriel Arias grounded out to start the ninth before Myles Straw lined out to center field. Cam Gallagher then lined out to Jeremy Pena to end it and set off the celebration.
Valdez (9-7) raised his arms above his head and then clapped as a huge smile crossed his face. He’s the first left-hander to throw a no-hitter for Houston.
“When I got to the seventh inning I thought to myself, ‘OK, I can finish this game without any hits,’” Valdez said. “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.’”
The 29-year-old from the Dominican Republic had pitched five complete games, including two complete game shutouts before Tuesday’s gem.
Catcher Martín Maldonado caught the third no-hitter of his career. He said he could tell from Valdez’s warmup that he would have a good night.
“I noticed from the bullpen, he wasn’t joking around,” Maldonado said. “He was straight business from the moment he walked out there.”
Maldonado had a simple answer as to what made Valdez so special Tuesday night.
“Just Framber being Framber,” he said.
Indeed, Valdez relies heavily on getting groundouts, and this game was no different. Valdez entered the game first in the AL in groundball percentage at 54.7 and 12 of his outs against the Guardians were on groundouts.
“It’s easy to see the two-seam movement, but his curveball — man just so good and he threw a couple changeups,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said. “But his curveball was really good.”
The no-hitter was the third in the majors this season. New York Yankees right-hander Domingo Germán pitched a perfect game at Oakland on June 28, and Matt Manning, Alex Lange and Jason Foley of the Detroit Tigers threw a combined no-no against Toronto on July 8.
It’s Houston’s first no-hitter in the regular season since Cristian Javier, Hector Neris and Ryan Pressly combined to no-hit the Yankees on June 25, 2022, and the first by a single pitcher since Verlander against Toronto on Sept. 1, 2019.
The Astros made the move for Verlander as they chase the Texas Rangers for first place in the AL West. Texas beat the White Sox 2-0 on Tuesday to leave Houston a half-game back.
Baker thought it was special that Valdez threw the first individual no-hitter for the Astros since Verlander’s on the day Verlander was traded back to Houston.
“It was sort of destined to be,” Baker said. “And I’m sure Justin is smiling right now on his way here and he’ll be the first one to congratulate Framber when he gets here. It’s a great day.”
Javier also started a combined no-hitter in Game 4 of last year’s World Series against the Phillies on Nov. 2, 2022. Bryan Abreu, Rafael Montero and Pressly also pitched in that game.
Kyle Tucker provided the offense in this one with a two-run single in the third inning.
Valdez retired the first 12 batters, with six strikeouts, before Oscar Gonzalez walked to open the fifth. But Valdez still faced the minimum in that inning thanks to that double play.
Arias grounded out to start the sixth before a lineout by Straw. Gallagher then grounded out to end the sixth.
Valdez retired all three batters in the seventh on groundouts. The first two were routine. But Valdez deflected a high chopper hit by José Ramírez and Pena’s throw to first barely beat Ramírez there for the third out.
Valdez struck out Gonzalez to start the eighth and retired David Fry and Will Brennan on groundouts to end the inning.
The strong start comes after he allowed eight hits and six runs — both season highs — in 3 2/3 innings of a 13-5 loss to Texas in his last outing.
Jake Meyers singled to start Houston’s third but was caught stealing after Maldonado struck out.
Jose Altuve singled and Jeremy Peña walked before a wild pitch by Williams allowed both runners to advance a base.
Tucker then singled to center field to send both runners home and put the Astros up 2-0.
Cleveland’s rookie starter Gavin Williams (1-3) allowed four hits and two runs in five innings for the loss.
Josh Bell was originally in Cleveland’s lineup Tuesday but was scratched after the team made a late deal to send him to Miami for infielder Jean Segura and infield prospect Kahlil Watson.
RHP Tanner Bibee (7-2, 3.11 ERA) starts for Cleveland in the series finale Wednesday. Houston hasn’t announced a starter.
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