Framber Valdez has been a little more Houston Astro than Round Rock Express this year. But in a season that has seen him boomerang multiple times between those two cities, Valdez showed off some of the form that earned him an Opening Day roster slot with Houston in the first place.
And, form that may get him a shot to be part of meaningful baseball in September for the Astros.
The big southpaw, one of the top prospects in the Astros farm system, was largely untouchable for most of his 6⅔ innings on Monday night at Isotopes Park. He struck out 13 Albuquerque batters before departing, and Round Rock piled on late for an 11-6 victory before an announced crowd of 7,926 fans.
The loss snapped a four-game winning streak for Albuquerque, which has only 20 games remaining. After overcoming a 5-0 deficit Sunday night to stun Round Rock, the Isotopes almost erased a four-run hole a day later, getting to within 6-5 in the eighth before a five-run ninth for the Express squelched any lingering suspense.
On the first official school night for most of the city, the 5-foot-11, 240-pound Valdez (4-2, 2.92 ERA) was schooling the Isotopes a good part of the evening.
The first seven outs he recorded were strikeouts, and his curveball had the confused Isotopes lineup often futilely waving at his stuff.
Valdez eventually did make a couple of costly mistakes — Pat Valaika clobbered a Valdez fastball approximately 440 feet to straightaway center in the sixth to cut a Round Rock lead to 4-2. It was the first home run Valdez had given up in 36 Pacific Coast League innings this season.
The 101st and final pitch of his evening also was a two-run home run for the Isotopes, a bullet to left-center off the bat of Noel Cuevas that brought Albuquerque to within two runs again at 6-4 in the bottom of the seventh.
But those two pitches were the exception for Valdez, who has struck out 61 batters in just 37 innings of PCL work. His numbers in Houston were not altogether horrible (3-4 with a 4.57 ERA and 41 Ks in 45⅓ innings), but a couple of shaky outings in the latter stages of June got him sent down the road to Round Rock.
He struck out five Isotopes starters multiple times on Monday.
Valaika was not one of them; in fact, he was the only starter who seemed dialed in to Valdez’s filth. Valaika hit a first-inning double before connecting on his 22nd homer of the season in the sixth.
Cuevas drove in three runs for the Isotopes in the loss. Albuquerque players were in a team meeting after the game and not available for comment.
Kyle Tucker bashed two home runs — his 31st and 32nd, putting him within one of the PCL lead — and drove in four for the Express.
He hit a two-run shot in the first off Isotopes starter Pat Dean (3-11), and added another home run in the ninth. Off the bench, Nick Tanielu supplied two doubles and three RBIs.
NOTES: The 15 total strikeouts Monday by Albuquerque batters was one off the season high. … After the series finale tonight, Albuquerque has just eight home dates left this season.