Astros lefty Framber Valdez is dealing with a finger injury, MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reports. The amount of time he’s expected to miss isn’t clear, as he’s still being evaluated by doctors, but Heyman adds that it’s believed to be “serious” and is expected to keep him out of action for awhile. Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle tweets that Valdez took a Francisco Lindor grounder off the hand during Tuesday’s outing, though he pitched another inning after doing so.
An absence of any length for Valdez would be a tough hit for the Astros, who are already unlikely to get much of anything from Justin Verlander in 2021 after he underwent Tommy John surgery last year. Valdez stepped up in Verlander’s absence and played a huge part in Houston’s playoff run, breaking out with 70 2/3 innings of 3.57 ERA ball over the course of 11 appearances. The 27-year-old completed at least seven innings on six occasions and completed six frames in nine of his 11 outings.
Fielding-independent metrics suggest that Valdez’s 2020 breakout was even better than reflected in his ERA. Valdez’s 60% ground-ball rate was one of the best in the game, and his 26.4% strikeout rate and 5.6% walk rate were both markedly better than the league average. The lefty’s 2.85 FIP and 3.23 SIERA both suggest that his 2020 success was far from a fluke.
For the Astros, Valdez is expected to slot into the rotation’s top three alongside Zack Greinke, Lance McCullers Jr., Jose Urquidy and Cristian Javier. It’s a solid-looking group thanks to surprise showings from both Valdez and Javier in 2020, but the depth beyond that quintet lacks big league experience and/or success. Their most experienced options, Josh James and Austin Pruitt, are both on the mend from surgery. James had hip surgery in late October, which came with a six to eight month recovery period. Pruitt had elbow surgery in September and, as of January, was not expected to be ready for Opening Day.
Righty Brandon Bielak was hit hard in 12 appearances last year (six starts, six relief outings), and righties Luis Garcia and Bryan Abreu both have fewer than 15 MLB frames under their belts. Garcia did get the ball in a playoff game, but that was largely out of necessity. Prior to 2020, he’d yet to even pitch in Double-A. Meanwhile, Tyler Ivey and Nivaldo Rodriguez are both on the 40-man roster, but Ivey has yet to pitch in the big leagues and Rodriguez only tossed eight innings of relief in 2020. Former Red Sox swingman Hector Velazquez is in camp as a non-roster player, but the Astros historically haven’t brought in many veterans on non-guaranteed deals and that’s again the case in 2021.