Rejuvenated Volquez proud to start Wild Card Game
Following his friend Liriano, righty turned career around in first year with Bucs
PITTSBURGH -- Beginning with his first sighting in Spring Training, Edinson Volquez has often noted that as a free agent, he had come to the Pirates to follow his lifelong friend, Francisco Liriano.
"I was looking for a home," Volquez reiterated Tuesday, "and I saw what happened to him. The year before he came here, he was struggling. And they fixed him, so I followed him."
Volquez is about to realize how spot-on that observation is: Wednesday night (8 ET, ESPN), he will follow Liriano's start in the 2013 National League Wild Card Game by starting the 2014 edition at PNC Park.
"He'll do fine. He just has to continue being himself, pitch his game," Liriano said, with apparently false calm.
"I think Frank is a little nervous," Volquez said. "He told me, 'I'm more nervous than when I pitched myself.' I'm really excited. I think I'm ready to pitch this game. I think I deserve it."
Volquez will get the ball against the Giants with both his confidence and pitching at a season best.
On the periphery of the Pirates' raucous celebration of the clinching of a postseason berth Sept. 23, a touching low-key scene took place in a quiet corner of the Turner Field visitors' clubhouse. Volquez, the reborn pitcher, and Ray Searage, the pitching coach who gave him new life, exchanged heartfelt gratitude to each other.
"We don't have those kinds of guys all through our careers," said Volquez, who had made three Major League stops before arriving in Pittsburgh. "I was lucky to find one. He's very proud of what he did for me, and I'm very proud, too."
Getting this assignment confirmed Volquez as the Bucs' latest mound miracle, thanks to Messrs. Fix-It, Searage and Jim Benedict.
"That's the beauty of this game, letting people go out there and see where they can take you," said manager Clint Hurdle, a veiled allusion to having been questioned for not maneuvering either Gerrit Cole or Liriano into this start. "Give them an opportunity to perform. This is an incredible opportunity."
Among other things, it will be Volquez's opportunity to improve on his only prior postseason start: On Oct. 6, 2010, Volquez started the Reds' Game 1 of the NL Division Series in Philadelphia, and he was chased in 1 2/3 innings, allowing four runs.
That performance by Volquez was forgettable for another reason: Roy Halladay pitched a no-hitter for the Phillies.
Volquez did not make a start this season against the Giants, and he has a streak of nine winless starts against them since beating them twice in 2008.
Improvement has been a Volquez trademark all season. After ranking last among all Major League starters in 2013 with a 5.71 ERA, he trimmed that number almost in half, with a 3.04 mark for 31 starts this season. After leading the NL with 105 walks in 2012, in 10 more innings this season, Volquez walked 34 fewer.
"I'm a very hopeful guy. I don't put my head down because I had a bad year," said Volquez, attributing his revival to correcting "my delivery, which was off, and my hands were late and my head wasn't straight. There were different things I worked on all year."
There were even in-season improvements: Giving up four home runs in the May 17 game in Yankee Stadium brought Volquez's season ledger to nine long balls in eight starts and 49 2/3 innings; since, he has given up eight in 23 starts and 143 innings.
Keeping the ball in the park is one element that makes Volquez the Pirates' hottest pitcher, and a logical choice for the first postseason assignment. He has fashioned an ERA of 1.78 across his last 12 starts, and he has not lost since his first outing following the All-Star Game.
The PNC Park inset of that big picture is even sharper. Volquez has allowed four earned runs in his last five home starts, and a total of only five home runs in 17 starts and 106 innings in his adopted home.
"He's pitched a number of games here where the crowd was electric," Hurdle said. "It's going to be different. He's a live wire."
A bit later, told about his manager dwelling on his personality, Volquez broke into a grin and asked, "Did he say I was crazy?"
"That's me," Volquez went on. "I'm a really happy person. Enjoy what you do. Have fun in this game. There's no reason to be mad every day."