LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles pitcher Fernando Valenzuela may not speak English, but in Thursday's 1981 season opener between the Dodgers and Houston Astros, he spoke pretty good baseball.
Valenzuela, a 20-year-old rookie making his first major league start, pitched a five-hitter to carry the Dodgers to a 2-0 victory over the Astros. It was the third consecutive major league victory without a defeat for Valenzuela, a native of Sonora, Mexico, who had a 2-0 record in relief at the end of 1980 in pitching 17 2-3 innings without allowing a run.
He became the youngest pitcher in the majors to open the season since 1966 when Jim 'Catfish' Hunter did it four days shy of his 20th birthday.
'I knew the opener was important,' Valenzuela said through an interpreter, 'and I knew how much it mean and how much of an honor it was for me. And it made me nervous for a few minutes. But once I get on the mound, I don't know what the word 'afraid' means.
'I mixed the fastball, slider and screwball early, but in the last three innings it was almost all screwballs. That's my pitch, and when I need the big outs, that's what I go to.'
The screwballs has the Astros baffled as Velenzuela retired 11 of the last 12 batters he faced.
Houston Manager Bill Virdon said it was a remarkable pitching performance. 'For a 20-year-old, that's really unusual,' Virdon said. 'To have that much poise at such a young age, it's well, hard to believe. A good screwball is a real tough pitch to hit, and Valenzuela has a real good screwball.'
The Dodgers jumped on loser Joe Niekro for eight hits in the seven innings he worked. Valenzuela stretched his streak of innings without an earned run to 26 2-3, going back to last season.
The Dodgers opened the scoring in the fourth inning, when Steve Garvey tripled with one out and came home on Ron Cey's sacrifice fly. In the sixth inning, Garvey singled with one out, advanced on a grounder and wild pitch and scored on Pedro Guerrero's double, his third hit.
The Astros had their best scoring opportunity in the sixth, when with one out, Craig Reynolds singled and Cesar Cedeno doubled but Valenzuela then retired the next two men.
Valenzuela was the first rookie starter in an Opening Day game for the Dodgers since they moved to Los Angeles in 1958. He moved up in the rotation when Jerry Reuss suffered a leg injury.
A crowd of 50,511, fourth largest Opening Day attendance for the Dodgers, turned out for the contest against the team which deprived Los Angeles of the National League West title in a playoff last season.