View Full Version : SI article on Edinson Volquez

05-22-2008, 12:03 PM
Eureka! After reinventing himself, Edinson Volquez is starring in Cincy

CINCINNATI -- Edinson Volquez wanted to quit. When the Texas Rangers staff pulled him aside that March 2007 day in spring training and told him that he -- the former No. 1 ranked prospect in the organization, possessor of a gilded changeup, a 98-mph fastball, and all of 14 major league starts -- would find himself not just in the minors, but three levels and 1,400 miles away from Arlington in Single A Bakersfield.

Worse, the Rangers informed him that should he wish to advance to Double A, much less the majors, he would have to abide by a set a of rules that mandated everything from the time he woke up, to the size of the razor blade he'd use to cut his hair, to the people he could talk to on days he was scheduled to pitch. Volquez knew that his combined 1-10 record and 9.20 ERA in 2005 and 2006 were far short of what was expected of him...but Single A?

For a moment it seemed that leaving the team would be better than losing his pride, but then a funny thing happened on the way to the farm: Volquez realized his major league dream was bigger than his ego.

Edinson Volquez's story, however, isn't so much the depth of his fall as it is the speed of his recovery. Just one year after that demotion, his sizable struggles at Bakersfield (zero wins and a 7.13 ERA) and a trade to the Cincinnati Reds, Volquez is now perched atop a mound in the majors and the National League in ERA (1.33). After holding the NL East-leading Florida Marlins to one earned run last Tuesday, he joined former Oakland A's pitcher Mike Norris as the only other pitcher to allow fewer than two earned runs in their first eight starts of a season. In his next start last Sunday, he outdueled American League ERA leader Cliff Lee by giving up two earned runs over six innings in the Reds 6-4 victory, and now ranks second in the NL in wins (seven) and strikeouts (62).

"To his credit, he did everything," says Rangers pitching coach Mark Connor, part of the brain trust who orchestrated the demotion. "We weren't sure (how he was going to react). We'd gotten to a point with Volkie where everything needed to be put into some structure for him. He got to the big leagues probably before he should have out of necessity here with the pitching the way it was in '05, '06. He obviously had the physical ability but it wasn't being put into use."

While Connor couldn't have overestimated Volquez's anger over the move, he did have some experience in exiling promising pitchers. While serving as pitching coach for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2001, Connor watched struggling ace Roy Halladay be shipped to Single A Dunedin to overhaul his delivery. The next season, Halladay won 19 games and the year after that, the AL Cy Young award.

While Halladay's big league banishment focused mainly on mechanics, Volquez's centered on maturity. "He came up when he was really young," says Francisco Cordero, a teammate and mentor in both Texas and Cincinnati. "He'd didn't have this maturity that he has now." That maturity kicked in by Volquez's third start in Bakersfield.

"I understood (the demotion) was good for me," says Volquez.

So good that when Scott Servais, the Rangers director of player development, called to tell him he'd been promoted to Double A Frisco, Volquez told him, "I don't want to go. I want another game." He didn't win that game -- or any other during his stint in Single A -- but he did abide by every rule the Rangers had set for him in spring training. Getting the message got Volquez the promotion to Double A, where he rediscovered his winning ways. Volquez collected 16 wins the rest of the year, including 14 in the minors at Frisco and Triple A Oklahoma, and two more as a September callup in the big leagues.

"When we got him back last year, he was like a different person," says Connor. "There were some innings where in the previous years that he was here, he wouldn't have gotten out of. He understood that he had to make a pitch here, a pitch there and he made those pitches where as previously he'd just try to blow his way through an inning and inevitably it would be a big inning and he'd be out of the game."

Texas wasn't the only team to notice the change. Wayne Krivsky, then-general manager of the Reds, insisted that the 24-year-old right hander be included in any deal for current major league home run and RBI leader Josh Hamilton. "We gave Wayne at least two dozen variations without Volkie in the deal, but he was stubborn about it," says Rangers GM Jon Daniels.

After a phone call from Daniels telling him he'd been traded to Cincinnati interrupted his dominoes game last December, Volquez reported to the Reds training facility in his native Dominican Republic where he made his biggest mechanical adjustment: He dropped his elbow about three inches from the high-3/4 arm slot the Rangers wanted him to throw from to his instinctive low-3/4 delivery he used as a prospect and now, again, as a force with the Reds. "When you're naturally a 3/4 and you try to go higher, you're not going to be the same. It's not natural for you," Volquez says. "The way I'm pitching now, this is what I've been looking for the last three seasons."

Even when Edinson Volquez was ready to quit, he knew that he was close to becoming the ace he believed he could be. He just never knew that the distance between his failure and his success wouldn't be measured so much in the number of minor league ranks he scaled, the miles he traveled, but in the inches -- a whole three of them -- he dropped his elbow to raise his game.


Roy Tucker
05-22-2008, 12:20 PM
A few days ago, there was this nice little piece and picture about his circle change...


First Quarter Awards

2. Volquez's circle change: Rivera's cutter ... Webb's sinker ... Volquez's changeup.

OK, it's a bit soon to mention Edinson Volquez's signature pitch in the same breath as Rivera's and Webb's, but the Reds right-hander is running roughshod over National League hitters with his tantalizing off-speed offering. Thanks to the pitch, Volquez boasts the lowest ERA in the National League (1.12) and the third highest strikeout total (57).

After setting hitters up with a mid-90s fastball, Volquez breaks off the low 80s changeup, which features a biting, screwball action. Since he throws both pitches from the exact same arm slot, it's pretty much unfair.

Although Great American Ballpark will certainly give Volquez some trouble in the coming years, he has yet to allow a homer over his first 25.1 innings in the bandbox.


05-22-2008, 12:25 PM
Should the Reds do the same thing with Homer???


05-22-2008, 12:33 PM
Should the Reds do the same thing with Homer???


If it was me I would use Homer to fill other holes.

05-22-2008, 12:34 PM
If it was me I would use Homer to fill other holes.

Out of the pen?

05-22-2008, 12:35 PM
Pete Rose gave Homer a lashing last night... Basically saying the kid needs to grow up.

05-22-2008, 12:36 PM
Out of the pen?someone else's preferably.

The Reds may have some opportunities if Jocketty can pull the lever.

05-22-2008, 12:36 PM
Pete Rose gave Homer a lashing last night... Basically saying the kid needs to grow up.looking from the outside he does seem to be his own worst enemy.

05-22-2008, 12:38 PM
someone else's preferably.

The Reds may have some opportunities if Jocketty can pull the lever.

I'd deal him if the return is right (like a stud SS or C or OF bat in return) but I wouldn't just trade him for anything.

05-22-2008, 12:42 PM
I'd deal him if the return is right (like a stud SS or C or OF bat in return) but I wouldn't just trade him for anything.I agree, the acquisition would have to be able to fill a real need.

05-22-2008, 01:01 PM
I'd let him pitch another season in AAA and grow up on his own schedule. He probably does need some structure...certain guidelines about what he should be working on when he's out on the mound, how many pitches of each type he should be throwing, whether he's allowed to shake off the catcher or not, etc. I'm guessing he already has things like that. The kid just turned 22, I mean, come on...let him grow up on his own schedule. It took Volkie until he was 24 and he's had much more responsibility shoved on him in his younger years...new language, new country, etc. Homer just needs time.

05-23-2008, 12:36 PM
Volquez racks up victories

By Jeff Passan, Yahoo! Sports 8 hours, 42 minutes ago

SAN DIEGO – Every year, he tries to learn something new. When Edinson Volquez first arrived in the United States, it was English. Ordering dinner was turning into a game of charades, so Volquez reached out to his rookie-league teammate Tim Cunningham, a Stanford graduate, and asked for tutelage.

Without it, Volquez would not have fully understood the expectation of him last season, when he learned his toughest lesson yet: embracing humility. He was a prospect then, long on talent, short on maturity, and when the Texas Rangers busted him down to Class A from the major-league roster – the real-world equivalent is a CEO-to-janitor demotion – he had a choice. Subvert his ego and follow the rules, or risk rendering all of his previous lessons moot.

And now he’s here, 24 years old, back in the big leagues, sporting a different uniform (Cincinnati Reds), a different hairstyle (slight Afro), a different attitude (humbled) and, most noticeably, different results (superb … phenomenal … unfair – yeah, that about covers it).

Volquez’s reclamation project provides the perfect, if underplayed, foil to that of the man for whom he was traded, Josh Hamilton. Like Hamilton, who enters Friday leading the American League in all three Triple Crown categories, Volquez, who starts Friday in San Diego, has posted eye-popping numbers: a major-league-best 1.33 earned-run average, the game’s top strikeout rate at 10.27 per nine innings and the National League’s second-best record at 7-1.

“At first, I didn’t understand,” Volquez said. “When they told me they’d send me down, I figured Triple-A. No. Single-A.

“And then there are rules. No beer, no nothing. Guys would drink it on the road. Not me. I had to comb my hair. Not miss any stretch. Put my hat straight. Keep my pants up.”

All were designed by Rangers brass to turn Volquez from a hard-throwing underachiever into the future ace they saw after he spent time at their academy in the Dominican Republic. Though Volquez signed under an assumed name and passed himself off as nearly a year and a half younger – common practice pre-9/11 – he lost no luster, not with a fastball that has hit triple digits and a confounding changeup.

By 22, Volquez was in the big leagues. He imploded. At 23, he was no better. And the Rangers, feeling as though Volquez’s lackadaisical attitude was bordering on disrespectful to the organization – and to his natural talent – figured shock therapy would do him best.

“It was a calculated gamble,” said Andy Hawkins, the pitching coach at Triple-A Oklahoma whom Volquez considers his greatest mentor. “We knew Volkie. We made that decision based on the relationship with him. On one hand, we were worried he’d go back and rebel. On the other, we thought his character would come through and he’d have the type of experience he did.

“He’s immensely talented. No one ever doubted his ability to pitch in the big leagues. We all questioned whether he’d survive.”

At first, Volquez struggled in Bakersfield, Calif., going winless in six starts with a 7.13 ERA. He followed the rules, though, and Texas promoted him to Double-A, where he went 8-1, then Triple-A, where he fared even better, 6-1 with a 1.41 ERA. By the end of the season, Volquez returned to the Rangers and survived sans meltdown and with perspective.

“They stood by him, and they made him stand by them,” Hawkins said. “He restructured his life and priorities. In hindsight, it was the right decision.”

Some of it had been fun. Before his teammates found out about Volquez’s demotion, he started an auction to see how much he could get for shaving off his dreadlocks. Once the price reached $600, Volquez took the money and let them know the Rangers were making him cut them off anyway.

Most of his time in the minor leagues, though, served as a reminder of the difference between major-league talent and major-league success. Volquez had the former. The Rangers still were unsure about the latter.

Still, the call in late December shocked Volquez. He was playing dominoes in the Dominican when his cell phone rang, and Rangers general manager Jon Daniels’ name popped on the caller ID.

“He told me I’d been traded,” Volquez said. “And there was nothing I could do but go to Cincinnati. I still don’t know why they traded me.”

For the same reason the Reds traded Hamilton: No matter how much someone tries, he can’t fully escape his past. So while Hawkins has seen Volquez hit 100 mph with his fastball, the Rangers had trouble forgetting him at his worst. And for all those strikeouts, Volquez still walks a dangerous number of hitters, 30 in 54 1/3 innings.

No matter, not for now, at least, when Volquez is getting outs. With humility conquered for now, Volquez has moved onto his newest skill to learn: becoming a great pitcher. He is using a two-seam grip on his fastball that gives it sinking action, which, at 94 mph, borders on criminal. And in addition to his changeup, which is like a feather shot out of a cannon, he has reintroduced a slider that he kept in mothballs for two seasons.

“He’s awesome,” Reds catcher Paul Bako said.

“Nah,” Volquez said. “I’m more confident, more experienced. (I put in) a lot of work. And learned a lot.”

Sometimes, the toughest lessons are the best.