ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Framber Valdez says he probably threw too hard and made too many mistakes early in his career when he got into mound matchups against a pitcher of Shohei Ohtani’s caliber.
These days, the Houston Astros’ ace rises to such challenges with poise and precision.
Valdez racked up 12 strikeouts over eight innings of three-hit ball and sent Ohtani to his first mound loss of the season in the Astros’ 3-1 victory over the Los Angeles Angels on Tuesday night.
Ohtani (4-1) passed Babe Ruth in career mound strikeouts while giving up six hits over seven innings, but the two-way superstar allowed five straight Astros to reach base in a three-run fifth, highlighted by Martín Maldonado’s two-run homer.
Ohtani finished with seven strikeouts, but he has yielded at least three runs in three consecutive starts for the first time in his major league career.
“(Valdez) is a great pitcher,” Ohtani said through his interpreter. “I knew it was going to be a low-scoring game, and I felt like I had some at-bats that could help us score some runs, but obviously I failed on that. But he’s a good pitcher.”
Yordan Alvarez had an RBI single for the defending World Series champion Astros, who snapped their three-game losing streak.
Valdez (3-4) was back in ace form after a few up-and-down starts. He held Ohtani hitless at the plate, limited Mike Trout to one single and didn’t issue a walk while finishing one strikeout shy of his career high, also established against Los Angeles last July.
“It was the concentration, the focus on every batter, every pitch,” Valdez said through his interpreter. “(In a tough pitching matchup), the adrenaline in the past would cause me to throw more pitches and give up more hits.”
Rookie shortstop Zach Neto hit his first big league homer for the Angels, who have lost three of four.
Ohtani made history when he fanned Jeremy Peña in the second inning for his 502nd strikeout, passing Ruth’s 501 K’s, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Ohtani and Ruth are the only players in major league history to strike out more than 500 batters while also hitting more than 100 homers.
“He’s just really good,” Angels manager Phil Nevin said. “But he’s human, and I think he made one bad pitch to a guy that seems to do a lot of damage against us.”
Ohtani was sharp until five straight Astros reached base in the fifth inning, and Maldonado — a former Angels catcher — put Houston ahead with his second homer this season. Ohtani allowed a big fourth inning in each of his previous two starts.
“I don’t know if he lost it exactly, but we found some holes, and he didn’t strike out as many as he usually does against us,” Houston manager Dusty Baker said.
Maldonado took extra pride in homering off Ohtani’s sweeper, the newest pitch in Ohtani’s seemingly endless arsenal.
“I feel like every year, he comes up with a new pitch,” Maldonado said. “That’s why he’s probably the best player in the game.”
Ryan Pressly pitched the ninth for his fifth save, striking out Ohtani along the way.
Chris Okey caught Ohtani in his abrupt debut with the Angels, who were forced to recall the 28-year-old from Triple-A Salt Lake with catchers Logan O’Hoppe, Max Stassi and Chad Wallach all sidelined.
Okey, who made his major league debut last season with seven appearances for Cincinnati, dropped an early third strike and committed interference to allow another Astros batter to reach base. Houston stole two bases off him and Ohtani, but Okey also threw out Peña at second to end the fourth inning.
Angels: Wallach went on the injured list with neck stiffness. … 1B Jared Walsh is progressing toward ending his season-long absence with headaches. He could be ready for a rehab assignment this weekend.
Astros: Mauricio Dubón left with left hamstring discomfort after running to first on a single in the fifth. He aggravated the hamstring on a fielding play earlier in the game, Baker said. … Michael Brantley is still “close” to returning, Baker said, but the veteran outfielder isn’t swinging a bat in Anaheim while the team slows down his comeback. Brantley hasn’t played since surgery last August to repair the labrum in his right shoulder.
Cristian Javier (2-1, 3.54 ERA) takes the mound for Houston in the daytime series finale Wednesday against Los Angeles’ Griffin Canning (2-0, 5.31).