Pirates notebook: A productive Edinson Volquez to see old friends

SAN DIEGO -- Edinson Volquez returned Monday afternoon to Petco Park as a productive member of a major league rotation, a contrast to where he was a year ago with the San Diego Padres.

Volquez will not face his former team on the Pirates' three-game series. The Padres will have to trust the numbers that illustrate Volquez's improvement.

"You always look back to the places you've pitched before," Volquez said. "I have a lot of good friends over there."

Volquez made 27 of his 33 appearances in 2013 for the Padres, the second of his two seasons with them. In that season, he allowed a league-leading 108 earned runs, walked 4.1 batters per nine innings and posted a 5.71 ERA. A year earlier, his 105 walks led the National League.

San Diego released him late last year and he finished the season with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Pirates signed him at the Winter Meetings for one year and $5 million, hoping to reform him.

This year he has a 4.25 ERA, a mark inflated by a four-start span in late April and early May when he struggled to keep the ball in the park. In his past three outings, he has 16 strikeouts in 16 innings and only five earned runs allowed.

"I don't even try to do something different," Volquez said. "I just want to be aggressive in the strike zone."

In his most recent two starts, Volquez's velocity increased, reaching 97 mph according to Brooks Baseball. PITCHf/x data presented on Fangraphs.com shows Volquez's average fastball velocity at 95 and 94.4 mph in those two starts, up from 91.9 mph in his first outing of this season.

After the games, Volquez dismissed the gun readings, telling reporters they might not be correct.

"I feel when I let it go," he said with a laugh Monday. "I was just joking around. I feel good right now and in the last two starts. I never expected to throw that hard."

Part of the increased speed on his fastball might result from entering the Pirates' strength and conditioning program. Volquez said he works out differently than he had before, with emphasis on his legs, core and shoulders. He also does a shoulder program after starts and bullpen sessions. He said he isn't doing anything special, just following the Pirates' schedule.

"I think I'm in better shape than what I was last year and my arm feels better, too," he said.

Cumpton on hold?

Manager Clint Hurdle said the Pirates have not made a final decision on whether Brandon Cumpton will start Friday at home against the Milwaukee Brewers, but it is likely that Cumpton will pitch.

"We didn't bring him up to sit," Hurdle said.

The Pirates have Thursday off and can push Cumpton's next start into the middle of next week. Cumpton allowed 11 runs on 11 hits in 32/3 innings Saturday against the Dodgers.

Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com and Twitter @BrinkPG.

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