Astros' Framber Valdez scratched with sore elbow, Blair Henley struggles in MLB debut vs. Rangers

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — The Houston Astros scratched All-Star left-hander Framber Valdez from his scheduled start Monday night against Texas because of left elbow soreness, then had to rely on their bullpen after the fill-in starter struggled in his big league debut.

Four relievers combined for 8 2/3 scoreless innings after Blair Henley got out only one of the nine batters he faced, and Houston rallied for a 10-5 win and a split of the four-game series against the Rangers.

All of that happened after Valdez returned to Houston for further evaluation by team doctors, though neither general manager Dana Brown or manager Joe Espada seemed overly concerned about the pitcher's issue being serious. Valdez first reported being sore around the top of his elbow after playing catch Sunday, then felt the same Monday.

“The fact that we didn’t have to put him on the IL is good sign," Espada said. “We just want to see what the doctor says and we’ll go from there.”

Brown said he spoke with the 30-year-old Valdez, who responded “a little below the medium side" when asked to rate the pain low to high.

“Not really concerned at all,” Brown said. “At the end of the day, I think he's going to be fine.”

Houston called up right-hander Henley from Triple-A Sugar Land for his big league debut. The 26-year-old allowed the first five batters he faced to reach and score at the home of the Rangers, just a few miles from his hometown of Fort Worth.

“Definitely wish it would have gone a little better, a little easier,” said Henley, who still considered it a cool day to debut close to home. “Just congrats to the team for putting up those numbers and keeping us in it and getting us a win.”

While Valdez remained on the active roster, right-hander Miguel Díaz was designated for assignment to clear spots on the 26- and 40-man rosters for Henley. The young pitcher said after the game that he had been optioned back to Triple-A, though Espada didn't reveal a corresponding move.

Valdez had no-decisions with a 2.19 ERA in his first two starts, both Houston losses. He has allowed three runs in 12 1/3 innings with six walks and 10 strikeouts.

After going 17-6 and leading the American League with 201 1/3 innings pitched in 2022, Valdez was 12-11 with a 3.45 ERA last season and threw 198 innings. He made 31 starts in both of those All-Star seasons, plus threw another 37 innings in seven postseason starts.

“The one thing with Framber is he logs a lot of innings. And, you know, when you do that much, sometimes you’re going to need some rest at times,” Brown said. “Sometimes you may have to miss a start. It goes with the territory.”

Henley pitched three seasons for the Texas Longhorns before the Astros drafted him in the seventh round in 2019. He has made one start for Sugar Land this season, and it was his turn to pitch again for the Space Cowboys.

After seven consecutive balls to start his outing, Henley allowed three consecutive singles before issuing a bases-loaded walk and then hitting a batter to force home another run. He finally recorded an out on his 34th pitch.

“He's going to get another shot,” Espada said. “And I told him when I went to the mound to keep his head up and we were going to win this game for him. ... And to do it that way, he was pumped when we talked after the game."