The tenor of the top of the first inning on Saturday seemed to suggest that Houston Astros left-hander Framber Valdez had reached the conclusion of what was an impressive streak of quality starts.
However, emblematic of how he has pitched throughout this season, Valdez had far more left in the tank. After allowing three runs in a ragged 32-pitch first inning, Valdez added six scoreless frames to extend his streak of quality starts to 17 in the Astros' 5-4 loss to the Seattle Mariners.
Valdez eclipsed 100 pitches for the eighth time this season while surrendering three runs on five hits and one walk with seven strikeouts. He logged seven-plus innings for the seventh time to set the stage for the Houston bullpen to be relatively fresh for Sunday's finale of a four-game series.
"I'm not worried about his durability," Astros manager Dusty Baker said. "If anything, we're worried about him trying to go out there and make every game a complete game. That's his goal every game as it should. He never wants to come out; we have to guard him some time against himself."
Right-hander Jake Odorizzi (4-3, 4.25 ERA) has the starting assignment for Houston on Sunday.
Hampered by a blister on his pitching hand, Odorizzi allowed six runs on seven hits and one walk with two strikeouts over five innings in a 7-5 loss to the Oakland Athletics on Monday. He is 1-1 with a 4.53 ERA over four starts following his return from a 42-game stint on the injured list.
Odorizzi is 4-6 with a 3.99 ERA over 15 career starts against the Mariners, including a 1-1 record and 3.27 ERA in two starts this season. He worked 6 2/3 scoreless innings against the Mariners on May 2, surrendering four hits and one walk with three strikeouts in a 3-0 home victory.
Rookie right-hander George Kirby (2-3, 3.50) is scheduled to start the series finale for Seattle on Sunday.
Kirby did not factor into the decision of his previous start, a 5-4 victory over the Texas Rangers on Tuesday, after twirling five scoreless innings with two hits, one walk and four strikeouts on his ledger. Kirby was the first pitcher in club history to work six scoreless innings in his debut after allowing four hits with seven strikeouts against the Tampa Bay Rays on May 8.
Kirby will make his first career start against the Astros.
The Mariners have been vigilant in monitoring Kirby, who has tossed 100 pitches in a start only once this season. After having nearly three weeks between in the run-up to his previous outing, Kirby logged on 51 pitches against Texas, his fewest by 20 pitches in any start this season.
With right-hander Luis Castillo, acquired by the Mariners late Friday, set to join the club in New York on Monday, Kirby is the most likely member of the rotation to experience a change in roles. Castillo appears on schedule to make his Mariners debut against the Yankees on Wednesday.
"You won't see him go to 100 (Sunday), probably looking more in the 75-80 pitch range," Mariners manager Scott Servais said of Kirby. "We'll see what that looks like and continue to build after that. If it goes well, you can start stretching him out a little bit again.
"There probably will be a time where we pull him back. He may skip a start, maybe a shorter start, maybe piggyback with someone else. I'm not quite sure yet. We're going to keep a very close watch on it as we go along as we have to this point."
--Field Level Media