Valverde brings passion back to game
Closer regaining consistency that made him top reliever
The dancing, the fist pumps and the pointing into the air are all back for Houston closer Jose Valverde.
More importantly for the Astros, so is the consistent pitching. Valverde picked up his 12th save in 15 chances on Sunday in the victory against the Rangers with 1 1/3 innings of work. He has not allowed a run in 15 consecutive innings and has seven saves in his last seven opportunities.
"He has been our most consistent guy over the last three weeks," Astros manager Cecil Cooper said. "Every time we got a lead, he has nailed it down. His ERA has probably dropped three whole runs in the last month. He's good."
Valverde is pitching like the man who led the Major Leagues with 47 saves last season, the guy the Astros traded for and not the pitcher that blew three saves and had a 6.92 ERA in April.
Valverde is Valverde again. Just ask him.
"I feel more comfortable than before," he said. "I am getting to know my teammates and having fun on the field. Going to a new team is not easy, but that is the past now. I am happy here. If you look around, I think you will see we have a good team."
Valverde said poor pitching mechanics were the reason for his control problems in April. On the night of April 15th, the night he was tagged for four runs, including two home runs, in only one-third of an inning by the Phillies, he spent countless hours watching video and analyzing his performances. What he found was the solution: his hands were set too low before he went into his windup and the result was a spinning body action during his delivery that hurt his control and velocity. Additionally, he was not using the over-the-top follow-through that had made him such a success in Arizona.
"All we can go on is the video and what he has done in the past and what he has done for us," Astros pitching coach Dewey Robinson said. "Now, he is back to driving the ball down and we even changed the grip on his splitter to get the ball to go down. We just got him back to what he was doing last year. He's been very efficient and I give a lot of credit to Jose."
Ask Valverde and he'll say he doesn't know how his mechanics changed, but admits it happens sometimes with pitchers. He also admits to trying to impress his teammates early on and he might have been thinking too much on the mound. He never panicked in April, but knew something was not right and it had to be fixed.
"I had no idea I was even dropping my hands, but I was getting hit hard, so there was a problem," Valverde said. "I wasn't doing my job the way I knew I could do it. You give up three runs here, four runs there and something is not right. I am the same pitcher as last year, but I was giving up runs. Things are a lot better now."
Despite losing two of three against the Rangers during the weekend, there are plenty of reasons for Valverde and the Astros to remain optimistic. The Astros are 12-4 in May and finished the recent 10-game road trip with a 7-3 record. First baseman Lance Berkman has been leading the offensive charge, hitting .399 and riding a 17-game hitting streak. He has hit eight home runs during that span.
"This is a team that never gives up," Valverde said. "Everybody feels like we can win the game anytime and it doesn't matter what the score is. We get better after the seventh inning, always coming back and fighting. I am very proud to be a part of this team here."
Facing his former Diamondbacks teammates last month for the first time and earning his fifth save of the season along the way helped him close a chapter on the past and complete his transition into being with the Astros. The pitcher looks back on his time in Arizona fondly, but said he is not looking back.
"I was throwing 99 miles per hour that game," Valverde said with a smile. "It was fun, but now they are just another team, like everybody else. I have a new team and we are good here, too."
Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.