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09/07/09 8:12 PM ET

Valverde to explore free-agent market

Houston (67-70) vs. Atlanta (70-67), 7:05 p.m. CT

HOUSTON -- Astros closer Jose Valverde, who has pitched well since coming off the disabled list, said he plans on testing the free-agent waters at the end of the season, though his first preference would be returning to Houston.

Valverde is making $8 million this season and will be a free agent for the first time. Since returning from the disabled list June 13 after missing 41 games with a right calf strain, Valverde has posted a 1.22 ERA with 19 saves and three wins in 35 games.

"I want to come back," said Valverde, who led the National League in saves in 2007 with the D-backs and '08 with the Astros. "This is a good team and a good city, too. The thing is I have to have the season over first and check out what happens. There are other teams, too, that need closers other than Houston, like Chicago [Cubs]. I have to check the market and see what happens."

The Astros will be unlikely willing to pay Valverde the kind of money he will demand in free agency. Houston acquired the right-hander from the D-backs in exchange for Chris Burke, Juan Gutierrez and Chad Qualls.

"Do I want to come back here? Yeah, I want to come back," Valverde said. "It's nice here."

Valverde, who was 0-1 with two blown saves and a 5.62 ERA in his first eight games this year before getting injured, is 22-for-26 in save opportunities. He had not allowed a run in 15 innings in his past 13 outings and has 17 strikeouts and eight hits allowed in that span.

"I'm trying the best I can," he said. "I'm throwing all my pitches, and the most important thing is I'm throwing the first pitch for strikes. When you throw first pitches for strikes, the hitter doesn't hit as much. When you throw the first pitch for a ball, you're behind in the count and after that, you have to work it more. I'm throwing first pitches for strikes and after that, I can do whatever I want with my split-finger and my sinker."

Pitching matchup
HOU: RHP Felipe Paulino (2-7, 6.62 ERA)
Paulino returned to the rotation Wednesday and pitched well, allowing four hits and two runs and striking out seven batters in six innings. But Paulino suffered his third consecutive loss because the Astros were shut down by the Cubs' Ted Lilly. As a starter, Paulino is 1-0 with a 10.97 ERA in six starts this year, but he has a good track history against the Braves. He's 2-0 with a 1.12 ERA in two games (one start) against Atlanta, and threw six shutout innings against the Braves in the final game of the 2007 season.

ATL: RHP Javier Vazquez (11-9, 3.18 ERA)
Vazquez's troubles against the Marlins continued on Wednesday, when he allowed them five earned runs in just 5 2/3 innings. In four starts against them this year, he is 0-2 with a 5.68 ERA. In his other 23 starts, he has posted a 2.77 ERA. Oddly the 33-year-old right-hander has gone 3-4 with a 3.06 ERA in 14 home starts and 7-2 with a 3.30 ERA in 13 road starts. This will be his first start at Minute Maid Park since 2005. In his past three outings there, he is 1-2 with a 2.05 ERA.

Right fielder Hunter Pence has three homers and six RBIs in his past four games. ... Infielder Jeff Keppinger hasn't played since Friday and is day-to-day with a lower back strain. ... Lance Berkman's 30-game homerless drought entering Tuesday is the second-longest of his career. He went 33 games last year without hitting a home run. ... Left-hander Tim Byrdak has appeared in 63 games this year, a career high.

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Up next
• Wednesday: Astros (Wandy Rodriguez, 13-9, 2.82) vs. Braves (Derek Lowe, 13-9, 4.36), 7:05 p.m. CT
• Thursday: Astros (Roy Oswalt, 8-5, 3.77) vs. Braves (TBD), 7:05 p.m. CT
• Friday: Astros (Bud Norris, 4-3, 6.05) vs. Pirates (Charlie Morton, 3-7, 5.43), 7:05 p.m. CT

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.