BRADENTON, Fla. — If there is a player on the roster who knows the pitcher that Edinson Volquez can be, look no further than the top of the rotation.
Volquez and Francisco Liriano grew up 20 minutes apart in the Dominican Republic, played on the same Little League team, and remained friends.
When the Pirates took a chance on Volquez this winter — to the tune of a $5 million deal for one year — it was Liriano, the National League comeback player of the year in 2013, who assured his friend the Pirates were the franchise that could turn his career around.
Spring Training Report: Manager Clint Hurdle
Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle talks to the media from the Pirates' spring training camp in Bradenton, Fla. (Video by Peter Diana; 2/15/2013)
“He told me about the pitching coaches. He told me I was going to love it,” Volquez said Friday, the morning after his first bullpen session. “He said come sign with us, we’re going to help the team to win.”
Volquez has not had a sub-4.00 ERA since the 2008 season when he was an All-Star with the Cincinnati Reds. He has had control problems as evidenced by his high walk rate before being released by San Diego in August.
But the Pirates believe they have identified some problems with his delivery, particularly with his head and planting foot, that, if corrected, might produce better results.
“The biggest thing we want him to do is keep his head on line to the target,” said pitching coach Ray Searage. “He has a tendency to pull it off.
“What we want to do is make sure the head stays on line, and also that when he lands he lands firmly on that left foot, he goes through it as opposed to land and roll off it … All the video we looked at in the past years you can see the steady progression to the roll off.”
Volquez attended minicamp in January, where he sat down with the pitching staff to look at video, which showed that steady change from 2008.
Searage describes the delivery they are looking for as more firm, more sure — a commanding delivery by a confident pitcher.
“When he was at his best, that’s what he did. Everything was firm,” said Searage. “The front side stayed in there, the foot landed. Boom. He was able to get over that front side and stay on top of the ball. … It came out good the other day. We’re on the right road.”
Manager Clint Hurdle who managed the National League All-Star team in 2008, has a history with Volquez as well.
The two met that summer when Volquez’ star was on the rise.
“I got to see him when he was in a very good spot,” said Hurdle. “We’ve continued to pull tape from that point forward. It’s just sitting down with him, showing him the video of when things are working well, when the fastball command is in play, when he’s able to work the ball on both sides of the plate, when the command has been off, pitches have been elevated.”
Volquez went 17-6 with a 3.21 ERA that year, and 206 strikeouts. It was the kind of season that put him in the running to be the National League rookie of the year and made the following seasons so dark.
“We know there’s a good pitcher in there,” said Hurdle. “We feel confident we can help him find a comfort zone and a confidence zone where he can go out and repeat his delivery and actually re-find that aggressive mentality he’s had from time to time … and help him be the pitcher we feel he can be and he feels he can be that he’s been in the past.”
Whether or not the Pirates can trigger the similar magic that turned around Liriano’s career a year ago remains to be seen. But Volquez believes he’s in the right spot.
“They’ve got pretty good ideas to make people better,” said Volquez. “So I think, I’m in the right spot right now … I’m very happy to be here and be part of this organization. I was really, really excited about signing with the Pirates. I saw what they did last year.”
Opening day starter?
Asked Friday afternoon who the opening day starter was going to be, Hurdle declined to get ahead of himself just yet.
“You know what? We’re going to let that pitcher know first. We haven’t yet,” said Hurdle. “I think our decision will be forthcoming. It won’t be too far in the future, we’re just giving it some time right now. It’s something we’ll get done sooner than later.”
Left-hander Yao-Hsun Yang reported to camp Friday and threw his first bullpen session. Yang was signed to a minor league contract and also received an invitation to spring training. … The Pirates unveiled a new spring training and batting practice jersey that went on sale immediately at the PNC Park Clubhouse Store and the McKechnie Field team store in Bradenton. … The Pirates purchased a lot adjacent to McKechnie Field, once the home of a popular restaurant named Popi’s Place. McKechnie Field, build in 1923, is the oldest spring training ballpark in use. Demolition on the building will begin at the conclusion of spring training, and the land will be used as a parking area.
Jenn Menendez: email@example.com, 412-263-1959 and Twitter @JennMenendez.