Volquez sees room for improvement
All-Star starter believes he can top 17-win Reds debut
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
SARASOTA, Fla. -- If Reds starting pitcher Edinson Volquez strains from the pressure of trying to be successful, he barely shows it.
Constantly wearing a grin on his face, Volquez often kept the same pleasant demeanor last season following a thrilling win or a stinging loss. So how does the right-hander approach the new season after one in which he became an All-Star and 17-game winner?
"I want another year like that, but better," Volquez said.
Volquez has the makeup to do that. He also has stuff that includes a mid-90s mph fastball and a deceptive changeup to back it up.
"He just has to breathe, that's it," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "Just pitch and progress. That's what I said. That's all."
It's hard to believe the Reds are only one Spring Training removed from when Volquez was the mystery pitcher few had seen pitch in person. At the time, the 25-year-old was simply the guy Cincinnati got back from the Rangers in the trade for Josh Hamilton. And for many fans of the popular Hamilton, that wasn't a good thing.
Although Hamilton had a tremendous year for Texas, there aren't many complaints about the deal now. In his first full big league season, Volquez was 17-6 with a 3.21 ERA in 33 games over 196 innings -- the most he threw at any level. His 206 strikeouts were second-most in the National League.
"Everything I had in my mind came true," Volquez said. "I had a good year last year. I can do better at a couple of things. I want to go deeper in the games. I don't want too many walks. And, I want to win more games."
Volquez did fade somewhat down the stretch last season, and that will have to be monitored in 2009. After a 12-3 record and 2.29 ERA in the first half, he was 5-3 with a 4.60 ERA after the All-Star break. Overall, he had 96 walks and was often prone to longer innings as he ran up his pitch counts.
There were no complete games, and only once did Volquez work more than seven innings. In 14 of his starts, he reached the 110-pitch plateau.
"If [pitch counts] are what we have to worry about -- last year no one knew what we had," Baker said. "That's already progress. A lot of times that second year, you're trying to get a guy to have a winning record. We're trying to get him to keep doing what he's doing. [Instructor] Mario [Soto] has talked to him. [Pitching coach] Dickie [Pole] has talked to him a number of times. We don't want him throwing the ball down the middle of the plate either.
"I've seen Greg Maddux throw 150 pitches early in his career. Everybody remembers the 85-90 pitch Maddux, but that was the mature Maddux."
Just how much Volquez's life has changed in a year was underscored earlier this month. A video circulated on YouTube showing the pitcher having fun in a car with a friend and briefly handling a handgun. Since they were speaking Spanish, many people did not realize what they were watching.
It turned out to be a promotion for a music video and album that the friend in the car, a famous singer in the Dominican Republic, was soon to be releasing.
"A couple of guys called me and asked what was going on," Volquez said. "I told them it was like a joke for one of my friends. I didn't know they even put it on there. When I saw it on the Internet, I said, 'Uh-oh, everybody knows.' The Reds called me and said, 'Don't worry about it. Everybody has guns in the Dominican. You just be careful.' After that, everything is OK."
A year ago, no one would have known Volquez on video and probably wouldn't have cared. Now he's an All-Star with a degree of international fame.
"It was unfortunate, but it was something non-threatening," Reds general manager Walt Jocketty said. "He apologized for it and realized it wasn't a good thing to be associated with."
OK, so Volquez will have to do some things differently to avoid pitfalls of being well-known. But on the mound, he just needs to keep doing what made him famous.
"With his talent, he'll do well," Jocketty said. "You have to learn to make adjustments and finding ways to improve. It's what the game is all about. He's certainly good enough that he'll be able to do it."