Sanchez RBI double, Volquez strong pitching lift Pirates past Cardinals
Clint Hurdle had seen this before.
The Pirates manager had seen Edinson Volquez get ahead of batters with a mid-90s fastball and then bury them with either a quality changeup or curveball, just as he did Sunday. Volquez and a seventh-inning RBI double from Tony Sanchez allowed the Pirates to better Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright for a 2-1 series-winning victory.
“You saw the fastball command. You saw big-time spin and tilt on a breaking ball. You saw good changeups,” Hurdle said. “It's the guy we have seen before.”
But it has been a while since anyone had seen this.
Volquez has struggled since his only All-Star appearance in 2008. This winter, the Pirates thought they could help Volquez rediscover his fastball command, signing him to a one-year deal. They thought he could be another worthwhile project like Francisco Liriano in 2013, like A.J. Burnett in 2012. The bet is becoming more important as Burnett departed via free agency and the team announced Sunday top pitching prospect Jameson Taillon will undergo season-ending elbow surgery.
Like Liriano, like Burnett, Volquez is a pitcher who struggled with fastball command but has quality off-speed pitches. This spring, Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage had Volquez better develop a more direct line to home plate in his delivery. While the spring results were ugly, the Pirates felt Volquez was making progress.
On Sunday, Volquez threw 32 of his 43 fastballs for strikes. He threw first-pitch strikes to 12 of 21 batters. He allowed one run and three hits over 5 2⁄3 innings.
“It was really good. We're still in the process,” Volquez said of his command. “I just want to keep my head straight to the plate. My delivery is more compact right now. It's smooth. It's easy.”
Volquez had command of a 90-93 mph two-seamer which he used to induce eight groundouts. Matt Carpenter, who rarely swings and misses, struck out swinging on a Volquez 93 mph sinker in the third, telling of its life. Volquez's hard-breaking curveball also was effective, as he recorded three of his four strikeouts with the pitch.
Volquez walked one batter, though it was an intentional pass issued to Matt Holliday after Jon Jay tied the score 1-1 in the sixth with an RBI triple. Hurdle then removed Volquez, who received a standing ovation from the PNC Park crowd.
Sanchez has caught Volquez throughout the spring.
“It's night and day from spring training until now,” Sanchez said of Volquez's fastball command.
Sanchez hit the second pitch he saw from Wainwright in the seventh inning into the right-center gap, scoring Pedro Alvarez from first. Alvarez continued to show patience, drawing his fifth walk of the week.
Sanchez said he was trying to avoid getting late in the count when he was more likely to face Wainwright's quality curveball, which had given the Pirates fits in the NLDS last season. It was Sanchez's second game-winning hit of the season.
“I almost trick myself into believing I'm ready for this when really I'm not,” Sanchez said. “My head is spinning a million miles an hour.
“I'm facing an ace in Adam Wainwright, and I'm supposed to drive in (a run) with two outs.”
All the Pirates' success against Wainwright came via his fastball. In the fourth, Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker each doubled off fastballs. Walker's double scored McCutchen for the game's first run.
The Pirates and Volquez got the best of Wainwright Sunday, but it was Volquez who put it in perspective afterward.
“We can't get crazy,” Volquez said. “This is just my first game.”