The Houston Astros have been without lefty starter Framber Valdéz since he fractured the ring finger on his pitching hand in early spring training. While the Astros have by and large avoided putting a timetable on Valdéz's return, that changed on Sunday when manager Dusty Baker told reporters (including MLB.com's Brian McTaggert) that Valdéz could return sometime in June.
Valdéz, 27 years old, authored a breakout season in 2020. In 11 appearances, including 10 starts, he accumulated a 3.57 ERA (126 ERA+) and a 4.75 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Valdéz even received down-ballot Cy Young Award consideration, allowing him to finish 11th in the American League. He later proved to be an important figure during Houston's run to the ALCS, as he appeared in four playoff games and held opponents to five runs on 14 hits in 24 innings.
The Astros are currently without two other starting pitchers: ace Justin Verlander and Jake Odorizzi, who the club signed in response to Valdéz's injury. Nevertheless, Houston's rotation has performed better this season than would be expected based on that news.
Indeed, the Astros entered Sunday with the 11th best starting ERA in the majors, just behind the Philadelphia Phillies, the Tampa Bay Rays, and the New York Yankees. Houston's current rotation includes five pitchers -- José Urquidy, Zack Greinke, Lance McCullers Jr., Cristian Javier, and Luis García -- who have a seasonal ERA+ of 110 or better.
The Astros came into play on Sunday with a 17-16 record that stationed them in third in the American League West, a half-game behind the Seattle Mariners and three back of the first-place Oakland Athletics. The Astros will conclude their series with the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday before beginning a stretch where they'll play 13 consecutive games against divisional foes, including three games in Oakland and seven games against the Texas Rangers.