WASHINGTON — Another dominant outing by the pitching staff and a first-pitch homer from Jose Altuve were all the Astros needed to keep rolling Friday night.
Framber Valdez held the Nationals to one run in 7 2/3 innings, and the Astros pounced on Washington starter Josiah Gray for five runs in the first inning, including homers by Altuve and Yuli Gurriel, to extend their winning streak to 11 games with a 6-1 win at Nationals Park.
“They were attacking early, and we hadn’t jumped on anybody early like that in a while,” said Astros manager Dusty Baker, whose 2,009th career win moved him past Leo Durocher for sole possession of 10th place on the all-time managerial wins list. “It feels good to get a lead, get Framber a lead. That was some first inning.”
The Astros, winners of 15 of their last 17 games, can tie the club record of 12 wins in a row with a victory Saturday night. The Astros’ pitching staff as a whole has allowed 10 earned runs in 99 innings (0.91 ERA) during the club’s 11-game streak.
“You look at the stats, we’re still down in the whole league offensively, but we’re at the top pitching-wise,” Baker said. “Pitching will carry you a long ways until your offense gets going.”
Here’s a closer look at how the Astros got their 11th win in a row:
Valdez takes shutout into seventh
Valdez threw 105 pitches — the most by an Astros pitcher this year — but couldn’t quite finish off eight innings, which would have tied a team season high. He’s got a 2.08 ERA and 1.12 WHIP in his last four starts, each of which has been a quality start by definition.
“Framber was really good,” Baker said. “He started shaky, but good thing we had that lead early, and he took us deep into the game. We’re trying to take him through that eighth so I wouldn’t have to use too much of my bullpen. When you’re getting starting pitching like that, your bullpen stays relatively fresh. That’s relatively important during this streak of games.”
By the time Valdez took the mound, he had a five-run lead, which helped him get comfortable. He gave up a pair of one-out singles in the first before sending down 15 of the next 18 batters to get him into the seventh. Houston starters have a 0.95 ERA during the winning streak.
“Obviously, the rotation is doing a really good job,” Valdez said. “We all support each other and give each other advice and see if somebody’s doing something wrong, somebody else can help correct it. It feels great that everyone is pitching well.”
Gurriel swats first homer of season
It’s been a slow start to the season at the plate for the reigning American League batting champ, but Gurriel slugged his first homer of the season in the first inning and added a sharp single in the ninth. The homer was his first since Oct. 2, 2021 — a span of 102 at-bats.
“We were all so happy for Yuli, because he hit his first one,” Baker said. “The first one seems like the toughest one to get. Hopefully, he’ll start rolling from there.”
Gurriel said hitting coach Alex Cintron helped him adjust the way he’s been standing in the box, which has helped him see the ball better.
“I’ve been working hard and making adjustments all season to try to get the results that we want,” Gurriel said. “Unfortunately, that wasn’t the way that was happening, but today is an example [that] the work is paying off.”
Gurriel, who won an AL Gold Glove last year, also showed his defensive prowess when he started and ended a 3-4-3 double play in the sixth. What made the play so remarkable was that Gurriel was looking down at the first-base bag as he caught the ball instead of looking at the ball.
“It’s just a play I practice a lot,” he said with a smile. “I just went in and found the bag. I knew I had the ball.”
Alvarez launches another long blast
Alvarez’s 438-foot home run to straightway center field in the third was his 11th of the season and his third in the last two games. He briefly tied Yankees slugger Aaron Judge for the AL lead, but Judge hit his 12th later on Friday. Could he be in the early stages of a home run race with Judge?
“Honestly, that’s not something I’m paying too much attention to,” Alvarez said. “A lot of people have brought it up to me, but right now, my focus is trying to do a good job and go out and play every day.”
The 11 homers in 27 games is the fastest Alvarez has reached 11 homers in a season, surpassing his 2019 AL Rookie of the Year campaign, when he had 11 homers in 30 games.
“Right now, I’m focused on trying to make contact on the ball, just like I’ve always been doing, and thankfully, things are going well,” Alvarez said.