The Pittsburgh Pirates, who seemingly are perpetually rebuilding, have a lot to feel good about so far this season, but a couple significant concerns have surfaced
For one, up next is a visit from the Houston Astros on Monday to begin a three-game series
The Astros have not had the strongest start, but they still are the defending World Series champions
In addition, Pirates budding star shortstop Oneil Cruz, who was helped off the field on Sunday after breaking his left ankle during a play at the plate
"He's a big part of what we do on both sides of the ball," Pittsburgh manager Derek Shelton said of Cruz, adding that the severity of the injury and prognosis were still being determined.
In the meantime, the Pirates are coming off two straight series wins, a combined 5-1 showing with a sweep of the host Boston Red Sox and two wins at home against the Chicago White Sox
"We're working. We feel ready. We want to make an impact this year," Pittsburgh right-hander Johan Oviedo old AT&T Sportsnet.
Oviedo, along with three relievers, held the White Sox to six hits on Sunday during the Pirates' 1-0 victory
Houston had lost five of six before salvaging one game from a three-game series at Minnesota with a 5-1 win on Sunday. That came a day after the Astros allowed a season-high run total during a 9-6 loss to the Twins
The Astros are set to play in Pittsburgh for the first time since August 2016
In the series opener, Houston left-hander Framber Valdez (0-1, 1.50 ERA) is scheduled to start against Pittsburgh right-hander Roansy Contreras (1-0, 1.59).
It's been a bit of a rough start for Valdez, Houston's Opening Day starter, but not because he's pitching poorly, as his ERA attests.
In his 100th career appearance on Tuesday, Valdez gave up three runs (two earned) in seven innings with nine strikeouts and one walk as the Astros fell 6-3 to the Detroit Tigers
"He had a little trouble getting his breaking ball over early," Astros manager Dusty Baker said of Valdez's outing. "He actually threw better in the seventh than he did in any inning of the game.
Valdez fired 103 pitches -- including a six-pitch second inning and a seven-pitch fourth -- and felt good about lasting so long so early in the season.
"Very important for me, and also important for the bullpen," Valdez said. "It's my goal to try to pitch deep into the games."
It was a hard-luck loss after he got a no-decision in his first outing, when he threw five scoreless innings against the White Sox on March 30. Valdez is coming off a 2022 season in which he finished fifth in the American League Cy Young Award voting and was a first-time All-Star.
Valdez has faced the Pirates once in his career, and he took a loss on June 26, 2019. He started and allowed six runs and eight hits in just three innings
Contreras kicked off his third major league season by pitching 5 2/3 innings of one-run, three-hit ball on Tuesday in a win at Boston. He has never faced Houston.
--Field Level Media