Edinson Volquez still working hard to earn Pirates' No. 5 spot

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BRADENTON, Fla. -- The reclamation of Edinson Volquez is still very much mid-project for the Pirates, evidenced by his 11.00 ERA this spring.

But his second start on Saturday did show flashes of progress with his fastball command despite an ugly line: 3 1/3 innings, 5 hits, 4 runs, 2 earned runs, 2 walks, and 4 strikeouts.

The outing actually lowered his ERA, and the Pirates are "still very optimistic" this right-hander can become the pitcher he once was.

"I'm not worried about the results, not worried about that scoreboard right now," said pitching coach Ray Searage. "I'm seeing some good things coming out and I'm going to hammer them. He is a very intelligent man. He knows. Now we have to get the body and the mind together."

Volquez gave up two runs on two hits and a wild pitch in the first inning, but with one out he got ahead in the count on both Matt Joyce and Wil Myers. He retired Joyce with a swinging strikeout and Myers on a grounder to second to end the inning.

In the second inning he gave up one run, but it was unearned. He induced a fly-ball out to center field and another swinging strikeout to end the inning -- this one by Desmond Jennings.

He gave up a hard hit double and single to open the third, but no earned runs, and retired his final four batters.

"The numbers don't look good, but the process is really good right now," said Volquez. "They love what I've been doing. I've been working on my fastball command and threw a lot of first-pitch strikes [Saturday]. Out of 17 hitters, 15 first pitch strikes. Very happy right now."

The pitching staff has been working to get Volquez to return to the same delivery and release point he did in his rookie year in Cincinnati in 2008 when he won 17 games with a 3.21 ERA and was named an all-star.

In bullpen sessions it's there, said catcher Russell Martin.

"Mechanically he's there. To put it in play when you go out and compete it's different," said Martin.

"Things can speed up and it's hard to stay within yourself because of that energy. But the fact is, in practice, in the bullpen, he's got his fastball. He's got that confidence going. We know the ability is there. To put it in the game, it takes repetition."

Volquez's changeup and curveball both looked fairly strong, but he is primarily working on establishing a consistent fastball down in the zone.

It certainly didn't happen every pitch, and when it was up and over the plate it was hit hard.

"Stuff like this doesn't happen overnight," said Searage. "I'm not going to give up on this guy. I saw some good things come out of him, then I saw some reverted deliveries. It was a mix of what we're trying to get across and what he still has in there. I'm encouraged."

The progress is subtle sometimes, said Martin, but it's there.

"When I first caught him he didn't have the same feel for the fastball," said Martin. "Now, if he misses a spot it looks weird. Before he had trouble finding that release point and hitting that location. Now I'm expecting it to be in that good spot so it's telling me we're going in the right direction."

Volquez was signed in the offseason to a one-year, $5 million contract, and is in line to earn the No. 5 spot in the rotation if his progress continues.

Volquez has bought in, has watched film from 2008, and is trying to repeat his delivery more consistently.

"It's a long process," said Volquez. "I love it. They're very open guys. They listen to you. Talk to you and have a pretty good idea of what you're trying to do and try and make you better."

Manager Clint Hurdle described Volquez as a professional coming off a poor season who was once an all-star.

"You see some nice sequences. The completeness of it isn't taking place," said Hurdle. "He's staying positive, working very hard so we're still very optimistic."

If Volquez doesn't show consistent command by the time camp breaks the No. 5 spot would be up for grabs between Jeff Locke, who is recovering from some right side tightness, and several other prospects.

Morton and Melancon

Charlie Morton went five innings in a start against the Yankees' Class AAA team at Pirate City. He gave up three hits, one earned run, walked one, and struck out four. ... Mark Melancon pitched one inning in a start against the Yankees' Class AA team, giving up two hits, one earned run with no walks and a strikeout.

Rays' Myers injured

Rays young right fielder Wil Myers left the game with a bruised right quadricep in the third inning after fouling off a pitch.

Jenn Menendez: jmenendez@post-gazette.com and Twitter @JennMenendez.

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