Pirates' Volquez learning to harness emotions
In his final preseason tuneup, a few days before the end of spring training, Pirates pitcher Edinson Volquez got off to a fast start but quickly started to spin out of control.
Facing a lineup of Opening Day starters, Volquez got two easy outs, including a three-pitch strikeout of Derek Jeter, in the first inning. Then came a single, a walk, a double and a wild pitch — in the span of seven pitches — and the New York Yankees scored two runs.
“It was two quick outs, and then (Volquez) was like, ‘I want to get off the field in 30 seconds,' '' catcher Tony Sanchez said. “I had to tell him, ‘Hey, easy. Settle down. Take a breath. Let's not rush it.' ”
The Yankees got two more runs in the second. But once Volquez finally settled in, he was solid. He retired 11 of the final 12 batters he faced, three of them via strikeouts.
After the rocky beginning, everything about Volquez was better — his tempo, his rhythm, his mechanics and especially his results.
It has been a common scenario throughout Volquez's career. In the first inning of games, he has a 5.80 ERA. In the second and third, it drops to 4.15 and 4.08, respectively. His strikeout-to-walk ratio also gets better the deeper he pitches.
“Sometimes, there's a lot of adrenaline in the first couple of innings,” Volquez said. “After that, when you shut it down, you can start to make better pitches.”
It's not like Volquez can flip a switch and control his adrenaline surge. So the Pirates changed his pregame routine, hoping it will help Volquez keep himself in check on the mound.
“It's more disciplined in design,” pitching coach Ray Searage said. “The biggest thing with him is not getting going in a game. It's the emotional part. He's got so much adrenaline, and he really hasn't learned how to control it. It takes him some time to get a handle on that.”
Volquez now throws about 10 more warm-up pitches than he did the past few years, a way to get amped up a bit more before firing his first game pitch. He wears a specially designed vest that monitors his heart rate.
Volquez also throws about half of his warm-ups from the stretch and the rest out of the windup.
“There are many, many pitchers who go down for those 45 (warm-up) pitches and they throw out of the windup the whole time,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “Sometimes, the littlest things don't seem like a big thing, but they can be.”
Early in the season, the changes seemed to pay off. Through his first four starts, Volquez was 1-0 with a 1.17 ERA. In 26 innings pitched, he allowed only four walks and one home run.
His past five outings have been rocky. Volquez gave up six runs in losses April 27 against the St. Louis Cardinals and May 4 against the Toronto Blue Jays. On May 10, he lasted only 42⁄3 innings and yielded three runs against the Cardinals.
“He's had a couple challenges with some front-side quickness, which has gotten him out of the strike zone more than he'd like to be,” Hurdle said.
Saturday, Volquez faced the Yankees for the first time since that spring training outing. Mark Teixeira hit a two-run homer in the first inning — the first of four home runs Volquez served up in 61⁄3 innings.
Searage and Volquez still have work to do.
Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.
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