Pirates pitcher Volquez has strong start in victory over Nationals
As Pirates starting pitcher Edinson Volquez was lifted for a pinch hitter in the sixth inning Thursday, he was approached by fellow rotation members in the home dugout at PNC Park.
Charlie Morton offered a quick embrace, Francisco Liriano extended a fist bump, and Gerrit Cole grabbed Volquez by the shoulders and offered, presumably, congratulatory words.
Volquez's quality start was much needed for the Pirates and an embattled starting rotation. Volquez helped the Pirates to a series-opening 3-1 win over the Washington Nationals and delivered just the sixth win by a Pirates starting pitcher this season.
Volquez is now 2-4. Cole is 4-3, and the rest of the starters are a combined 0-13.
“I thought he pitched a very professional game,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “He maintained composure and pitched through traffic. … He used his changeup well early and his breaking ball played for him.”
For Volquez, the start was much-needed.
The Pirates are beginning to run out of patience with their starting pitchers as they designated Wandy Rodriguez for assignment earlier in the day. The Pirates have at least two pitchers at Triple-A ready for a call-up in Brandon Cumpton and Jeff Locke. Volquez, signed to just a one-year, $5 million contract, needed to give the club reason to keep him in their rotation plans.
He did just that Thursday against a banged-up Nationals team that was without Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman.
Volquez had command of a two-seam fastball that touched 94 mph and a sharp curve. He allowed one run and three hits over six innings, walking two and striking out four.
Hurdle said prior to the game that Volquez had been throwing too many strikes, perhaps the first time such a statement had been uttered in reference to Volquez, who has a career walks-per-nine-innings rate of 4.6.
But through nearly two months as a Pirate, Volquez is walking just 2.3 batters per nine innings, by far a career-best rate.
The issue, Hurdle said, was the quality of the strike. Volquez had simply caught too much of the plate at times as he entered allowing 20 runs in his last four starts, and nine home runs on the season.
What was Volquez's focus in side work leading into the start?
“Just keep the ball in the bottom of the strike zone, just keep the ball in the ballpark,” said Volquez, who burst into laughter.
Volquez showcased better command Thursday. He painted the outside corner to strike out Ian Desmond in the second with a 94 mph fastball. He hit the outside corner three consecutive times against Danny Espinosa, inducing a lazy flyout in the second.
He also had command of his curveball, which he buried out of the zone in the sixth to record strikeouts of Desmond and Tyler Moore. Even the lone damage against Volquez, a Desmond solo home run to right-center in the fourth, came on a pitch that was on the outer half of the plate.
It was Nationals starter Blake Treinen who had trouble throwing strikes.
In the Pirates' third, Treinen walked Volquez and later Neil Walker in loading the bases. He then hit Andrew McCutchen to force in Volquez for the game's first run. In the fifth, Treinen walked Josh Harrison, who came around to score on a McCutchen single to give the Pirates a 2-1 lead. Harrison drove in Chris Stewart with an RBI single in the eighth to extend the Pirates' lead.
The Pirates pitchers were aided by another sensational fully-extended catch by Harrison in the sixth, who robbed Wilson Ramos of an extra-base hit. And with two outs in the ninth, McCutchen made a sliding catch with the tying runner on base to secure a save for Mark Melancon.