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OnBaseMachine
05-19-2008, 01:52 AM
On a course for change
Adding changeup the first of many (good) changes for Volquez
BY PAUL DAUGHERTY | PDAUGHERTY@ENQUIRER.COM

Long, slender fingers grip the baseball along the seams. Middle finger, ring finger, right hand. Edinson Volquez positions them slightly on or off the seams, a fraction of an inch to either side, depending on whether the hitter bats right- or left-handed.

"I keep my fingers straight," Volquez is saying. "With a lefty (hitter), I turn the ball a little this way. With a righty, I just move it a little bit to the other side."

The changeup is baseball's best parlor trick. It's an anatomical illusion. If you can throw a 95 mile-an-hour fastball that is a missile in the fog, then follow it with an 80 mile-an-hour change that looks like a missile in the fog, the hitter will resemble a drill bit in a piece of pine, corkscrewing holes in the batter's box.

This is what Volquez has done this spring. He throws a slider and a curveball, too, but the fastball and change have put his name in the national footlights and his ERA at 1.12. He pitches today against Cleveland lefty Cliff Lee, who is 6-0 with a ridiculous 0.67 ERA. The early season returns suggest Juan Marichal vs. Sandy Koufax.

A pitching coach in a summer league in his hometown of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, taught Volquez the changeup. Volquez was 15, a typical kid pitcher: All heat, no subtlety. He was (and is) a free spirit. The fastball fit his personality. The change? Not so much.

"I was afraid to throw it," he says now. "It was slow, you know? I was 15 years old, throwing 92, 93" mph. "I thought (hitters) would kill it."

The coach advised him that no pitcher makes it to the major leagues with only one pitch. And, there was this: Volquez's hero, fellow Dominican Pedro Martinez, was mowing them down in Boston, mixing changeups with his fastball. For a kid whose nickname was "Pedrito" (Little Pedro), agreeing to add the pitch wasn't hard.

"It took me a couple months to get comfortable with it," Volquez says. "Then, no problem."

Volquez's changeup works so well because the speed of his arm stays the same, no matter the pitch. For a hitter, it's like trying to time an Indy car with a sundial. When you see them lunge and miss, you know they were thinking 95 miles an hour, and got 80 instead.

"Same arm speed, every pitch," Volquez acknowledges.

Irony has its place in this story. All Latin-born baseball players are subject to change: Names, ages, languages, cultures, speeds. Edinson Volquez once went by the name Julio Reyes, assumed the nickname Pedrito, claimed he was 18 months younger than he really was, quickly learned basic English to cope in the States and, not coincidentally, developed a changeup that has him on an All-Star path.

"We adapt," is what Volquez says about that. "First thing is to learn English. Then follow the rules."

A recent profile on ESPN.com described the frustration of the Texas Rangers, as they tried to reel in their pitching prodigy. To the Rangers, Volquez was much the same pitcher at 22 that he was at 15: High energy, low focus. To get Edinson's mind right, the Rangers dumped him from the majors to Single-A, with a few rules. Among them:

Run on and off the field in 12 seconds or less.

On days he started, talk to no one but the catcher, manager and pitching coach. "That was a hard one," Volquez says now. "I like to talk."

Keep his shirt tucked in.

Write down a plan for the hitters he'd be facing.

Shave his dread-locked head with a No. 2 blade.

"A number-two blade?" I asked.

"Yeah, I think it was number two. Whatever. It was crazy for me, for a little while. I used to be able to do everything I wanted to do," Volquez says, before praising the Rangers for cracking the whip. "I took everything seriously. I started to respect the game. It was good for me."

An agent also had advised Volquez to change his name and lie about his age, telling him younger players got more money to sign. Volquez shrugs at being known as Julio Reyes when the Rangers signed him in 2001. It's just what Latin players do sometimes. And he is 24 years old. He swears it.

It's 4 in the afternoon. The Reds clubhouse is quiet, save for the bantering in Spanish between Volquez and Reds closer Francisco Cordero. A gold chain thicker than a bicycle chain hangs from his neck. His smile is as persistent as sunrise.

Cordero, a 10-year veteran and two-time all-star born in Santo Domingo, has become a godfather of sorts to Volquez and Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati's other Dominican starter. "Be on time and prepare yourself" is his advice. "I definitely prepared my mind for this season." Volquez says. "I don't care who I face, just throw my best pitch."

Between them, the two kid pitchers had eight of the Reds' first 19 wins, causing fans to be optimistic about Cincinnati's pitching staff. Talk about changeups.

http://news.enquirer.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080518/COL03/805180423

OnBaseMachine
05-20-2008, 02:19 PM
Phenom grew up following Dodgers
Reds' Volquez idolized countryman Pedro in LA
By John Klima / Special to MLB.com

LOS ANGELES -- Edinson Volquez grew up idolizing former Dodgers pitcher Pedro Martinez in their native Dominican Republic. From a town -- Santo Domingo -- where the Dodgers have their Domincan baseball academy, Campos Los Palmas, Volquez is proving to be a player who slipped away.

Volquez, whose 1.33 ERA leads the Major Leagues, made his first visit to Dodger Stadium on Monday as a member of the Cincinnati Reds. He said he began following Martinez when he was a Dodger in the early 90s.

Though he was only 11 when Martinez was traded to the Montreal Expos, Volquez's Martinez fascination continued into his teenage years.

"Pedro, I looked up to him a lot, starting when he was here," Volquez said. "I never missed a game when he pitched."

Though he said he grew up around players who had been signed by the Dodgers and played in the team's Minor League system, Volquez said he would have embraced the opportunity to sign with the Dodgers, largely because he wanted to follow in Martinez's footsteps.

But Volquez said that at the time he wasn't the power pitcher that he has become now, one who is second in the National League with seven victories and one strikeout behind San Francisco's Tim Lincecum for the MLB lead.

Volquez said he threw only in the high 80s and played shortstop when he wasn't playing basketball. Still, he said the Dodgers remained such a presence where he grew up that he wondered if the team's reach would extend into his future.

"The Dodgers signed a lot of guys who were very close to my house," Volquez said.

He also said that he was easy to miss at that stage. "Not the Dodgers, not the Braves, nobody was really on me," he said. "Just the Marlins, Colorado and Texas."

Texas originally signed him for the modest sum of $27,000 in October 2001.

"I was throwing like 87-88 mph at the time I signed," Volquez said. "That was my average fastball. I had good movement. But like two months later, I was at 92. It was unreal."

These days, Volquez comfortably works in the 92-95 mph range.

Volquez said that he had worried about signing with the Dodgers then, but admitted that the lure of following Pedro would have been tempting.

"I was kind of scared [about] signing with the Dodgers, because they were signing a lot of players I know who were getting released," he said. "I didn't even think about the Dodgers. One of the guys, when I was little, I think he worked for the Dodgers and was [involved with] Adrian Beltre."

Volquez has other things in common with Martinez beyond their both being Dominican. They were both traded early in their Major League careers by their respective first organizations; Martinez to Montreal for Delino DeShields and Volquez from Texas for Josh Hamilton.

Volquez has also had success because he throws a solid changeup, Martinez's signature out pitch.

"The success has come from throwing his fastball from the same slot that his changeup comes out of," said Lenny Strelitz, a former Minor League pitcher and Texas Rangers scouting director who Volquez credits for helping him refine his delivery with extensive video work.

"I just encouraged him to go back to his natural arm slot with all his pitches. I think big league hitters were sitting on his changeup because they could see it coming. They weren't even offering at it. Now they swing at the change because they don't see any difference."

http://cincinnati.reds.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20080520&content_id=2734271&vkey=news_cin&fext=.jsp&c_id=cin

OnBaseMachine
05-23-2008, 12:53 PM
Reds notebook
Volquez wants to teach Cueto about emotions
BY JOHN FAY | JFAY@ENQUIRER.COM

SAN DIEGO - You'd never know it now, but Edinson Volquez used to have trouble controlling his emotions on the mound.

"He's not easily rattled," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "He doesn't panic."

That's the 2008 version of Volquez. He wasn't like that in his first two stints with the Texas Rangers in 2005 and '06.

"The Rangers talked to me a lot about being too emotional in the game," Volquez said.

Volquez is trying to pass that knowledge onto his young rotation-mate, Johnny Cueto. Cueto gets visibly upset with himself when things go wrong. Two losses of concentration cost him runs Wednesday in a 5-2 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers. He threw a wild pitch with a runner at third base and threw a wild pickoff attempt with a runner at third.

"I talk to Johnny," Volquez said. "That's a problem with him. You've got to control your emotions."

Volquez and Cueto have similar stuff. But Volquez is 7-1 with a 1.33 ERA and Cueto is 2-5 with a 5.56 ERA.

"I'm more comfortable, confident," Volquez said.

The Reds have taken measures. Cueto is no longer allowed to shake off catcher Paul Bako.

But Baker doesn't want to harness him completely.

"He's very driven, very competitive," Baker said. "You don't want to take that emotion away. You want to channel it."

http://news.enquirer.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/AB/20080523/SPT04/805230355/