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Astros Avoid Sweep, Best Royals 7-1

Framber Valdez shoved and did something unexpected in the meantime.

MLB: Houston Astros at Kansas City Royals Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Framber Valdez is traditionally known for utilizing the following mix of pitches, in order of highest to lowest usage: Sinker, curveball, changeup, and cutter. He mixes it up depending on the exact situation, but you can generally see the pattern here. In fact, there is only one start this season when Valdez threw another pitch more than his sinker in a start, back on August 1 when he threw his no-hitter against the Guardians. In that start, the left-hander threw his curveball 45.2% of the time followed by his sinker at 36.6%. It happens once or twice per season dating back to 2021, but it is generally uncommon to see Valdez use another pitch more than his sinker. Typically, it is his curveball that receives the higher usage rate in those scenarios.

That history is why what happened on Sunday represents an interesting departure for Valdez, who basically shelved his primary sinker and curveball combination for something else. In this case, the Royals saw a majority of changeups (41%) followed by Valdez’s cutter (25%). Yes, for the seven innings he pitched, Valdez peppered Kansas City with changeups and cutters about 66% of the time.

It was the first time in a single, as far as I can gather, that Valdez threw his changeup more than any other pitch in a single start. There has been at least one instance when his cutter had the second-highest usage rate in a start, but it was the changeup development that caught me off-guard. And it generally worked, as Valdez held Kansas City to a lone run on five hits and a walk. He also struck out five while generating nine whiffs. Yes, the Royals only whiffed twice on his changeup (20 swings total), but I believe it kept the opposing bats off-balance. I mean, it is a different approach that we haven’t seen from Valdez before. I’m not sure if we’ll see it again, but it is something I may dig deeper into for a longer post later this week.

In any case, Valdez set the tone early in this game, with his performance giving the Astros a chance. The lineup, in turn, backed up his efforts with seven runs, with a 4-1 lead when the lefty was finished. Jose Altuve and Chas McCormick each had three hits, with Yordan Alvarez and José Abreu driving two apiece. Alvarez also had his 28th home run of the season along with Jake Meyers, who also had a solo shot of his own. You won’t find too much complaining from me when the box score looks like this one.

Well, minus Jeremy Peña’s golden sombrero and no Yainer Díaz in sight, but I won’t dwell too much on those issues right now. Hey, it is Sunday and the Astros won, so it was a good day. It also helps that both the Rangers and Mariners lost, so Houston increased their lead in the division to 1 12 and 2 12 games over their division rivals. Again, considering how the previous six games have transpired (2-4 record), I am relieved for the night that the Astros still hold the division lead. With the Orioles coming into town this week, along with an updated batters’ eye, I am curious to see how the club responds as the AL West race still rages on.