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Valverde committed to playoffs push

Valverde committed to playoffs push

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HOUSTON -- If Jose Valverde had his choice, he'd pitch every day.

The Astros closer has made it clear to Houston's coaching staff he'd be just fine getting the call to the mound four, five or even six days in a row if the team is in a save situation. Although Cecil Cooper gave him a day off on Saturday, the Astros manager said he wouldn't mind giving the ball to his closer that frequently, either; after all, that would mean his club was in line to win.

Following his longest outing of the season, 38 pitches to close the Astros' 6-3 win over the Florida Marlins on Wednesday, Valverde trotted right back to the mound at Minute Maid Park to finish off the next two games.

Valverde threw 17 pitches on Thursday and another 15 on Friday for a total of 70 over three games. But despite the increased workload, the right-hander said he's felt no ill effects, and his performance has backed that up. He's been hitting the radar gun at 97-98 mph, and Cooper called his performances on Thursday and Friday the best two outings he's seen out of his closer all season.

"I think Papi has been as good as he has all year the last two times out," Cooper said. "He's attacking the zone again. ... When he's like that, I'm going to run him out there every day, if he can go."

Even though Valverde said he would be fine to pitch on Saturday, Cooper felt Valverde had earned a day off before Houston's series finale with Arizona on Sunday.

The 31-year-old's save on Friday was the 63rd of his career with the Astros, moving him into sixth place on the club's all-time saves list, passing right-hander Doug Jones.

Since being activated off the disabled list on June 13 from a right calf strain, Valverde ranks third in the National League in saves with 17 and has posted a 1.45 ERA in 29 games. But over that stretch, there have been times when his control has wavered, putting the Astros on the edge of their seats.

"I don't know if he's really struggled, he's just let a few guys on base," outfielder Hunter Pence said. "As long as he gets out of the inning with a zero and we come out of it with a win, there really isn't anything to worry about."

With the back end of their bullpen getting a lot of work, the Astros are hoping to get some relief in the coming week. Right-hander Doug Brocail began his four-game rehab stint at Triple-A Round Rock on Saturday and will be joined on Monday by left-hander Wesley Wright, who will throw a bullpen session on Sunday.

Both pitchers hope to rejoin the team sometime on the upcoming nine-game road trip. Wright has been on the DL since Aug. 12 with a left shoulder strain, resulting from arm fatigue.

"My rotator cuff got a little fatigued, and it was probably best for me to get rest and not try to work through it," Wright said. "I just want to make sure everything is sound and just be able to come back by September to help the team."

Pitching matchup
HOU: RHP Bud Norris (3-1, 4.05 ERA)
Norris lost for the first time in his big league career last time out against the Marlins. After cruising through the first three innings, scattering two hits, Norris allowed five runs over the next three innings. He was unable to work out of the sixth after loading the bases and walking in a run, the third run of the inning. He has never faced Arizona in his career.

ARI: RHP Jon Garland (6-11, 4.42 ERA)
Battling stormy Philadelphia rains, Garland allowed five earned runs on 11 hits in 5 1/3 innings during his last outing. The weather was not the problem, he said. Rather, in a three-run third inning, he was hurt by defensive miscues, and later in the game, as his pitches flattened out, he surrendered two solo home runs. He had thrown eight quality starts in his past nine outings entering Tuesday. In three career starts against the Astros, Garland is 0-1 with a 4.26 ERA.

Tidbits
The Astros signed right-hander Armando Benitez to a Minor League contract on Saturday. Benitez, 36, had been pitching in the independent Atlantic League for the Newark (N.J.) Bears. In 34 games in relief, he collected 16 saves and posted a 2.86 ERA, holding opponents to a .171 average. He will report to Triple-A Round Rock on Sunday.

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Up next
• Monday: Off-day
• Tuesday: Astros (Wandy Rodriguez, 12-7, 2.89) at Cardinals (Joel Pineiro, 12-9, 3.15), 7:15 p.m. CT
• Wednesday: Astros (Roy Oswalt, 7-4, 3.83) at Cardinals (Adam Wainwright, 14-7, 2.61), 7:15 p.m. CT

Jason Grodsky is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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