HOUSTON — While ace Justin Verlander worked six shutout innings and closer Ryan Pressly retired the side in order in the top of the ninth, the hold provided by reliever Bryan Abreu proved as critical as any pitching effort received by the Houston Astros in their 6-4 victory over the Minnesota Twins in Game 1 of this American League Division Series on Saturday.
After Minnesota struck for four runs off Hector Neris in the seventh inning, Abreu bridged the gap to Pressly by working around a pair of doubles and recording three strikeouts over 1 1/3 innings. His handiwork was vital in helping the Astros take a 1-0 series lead with Game 2 set for Sunday.
“Yeah, the guy is confident,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said of Abreu. “His confidence is high. He’s throwing strikes. He’s using his fastball and his slider, and he’s been great.”
Left-hander Framber Valdez (12-11, 3.45 ERA in regular season) is the scheduled Game 2 starter for the Astros. He is 7-2 with a 3.41 ERA over 13 career postseason appearances (12 starts).
Valdez earned the victory in Game 6 of the 2022 World Series after limiting the Philadelphia Phillies to one run on two hits and two walks with nine strikeouts over six innings and has won three consecutive postseason starts.
Valdez is 3-1 with a 2.37 ERA over seven career appearances (four starts) against the Twins. In his lone postseason appearance against Minnesota, Valdez twirled five scoreless innings of relief in Game 1 of the 2020 AL wild-card series while earning a 4-1 road victory.
Right-hander Pablo Lopez (11-8, 3.66) will start Game 2 as the Twins attempt to square the best-of-five series at a game apiece.
In his second career postseason start on Tuesday — and first since Game 2 of the 2020 National League Division Series for the Miami Marlins against the Atlanta Braves — Lopez earned a 3-1 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays in Game 1 of that AL wild-card series. He surrendered one run on five hits and two walks with three strikeouts over 5 2/3 innings.
Lopez faced Houston once previously while he was with the Marlins. He allowed two runs on six hits and two walks with five strikeouts over 4 1/3 innings while not factoring into the decision of a 7-4 victory on June 10, 2022.
That Lopez delivered in a manner the Twins sorely needed against Toronto allows Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli to approach Game 2 with a level of calm. Reliability is a welcome asset.
“… Every time you hand him the ball, you feel very confident,” Baldelli said. “The guys around him feel confident. He gives you a great chance to win a ballgame every time. He’s ultra-competitive, and it rubs off on everyone.”
Lopez added: “Like it happens in the regular season when you’re going against one of the aces on the other teams, it’s all about there might not be a lot of runs, so your job becomes extra trying to prevent runs and making good pitches early, get ahead, stay ahead, and then try to have quick innings because that might be what’s going to happen on the other side of it.”