Pirates pitcher Edinson Volquez movin' and groovin'

Pitching project a unique, rising personality

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Never one to sit quietly in his stall on start days or otherwise, Edinson Volquez is in constant motion in the Pirates clubhouse. He jokes with teammates, throws a salsa step, rolls back in a belly laugh, is gregarious in English and Spanish, hat slightly cocked, gold chain dangling.

He is the same in the dugout between innings.

"I like to be all over the place. Like a tornado," Volquez said. "Heh, heh."

And there's that laugh.

For an acquisition that could have been a colossal $5 million mistake for the Pirates, Volquez just might be the club's most interesting reclamation project yet, with a trajectory -- despite some ups and downs -- that still points skyward.

Sunday he completed another strong outing for his sixth win this season.

"The guy's been a sponge," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Sometimes you get these guys and what you think they are and what you find out who they are, what they know? And then where you can add, how much they want to be helped, and how much they want to listen. He's listening, he's factoring in information, using it professionally. Once he gets a grip on that, he's looking for a little bit more."

After peeling back the layers in spring training, the Pirates quickly found Volquez lacked the kind of pitching foundation that most players his age already had been taught. He turns 31 on July 3.

Volquez left the Dominican Republic at 18 to play in the Arizona fall leagues as a prospect for the Texas Rangers, signed as an amateur free agent. Without the comfort of mama's cooking he lost 25 pounds, then sailed through the minor leagues as a prospect.

He had early success in the major leagues after a trade to Cincinnati in 2007, before hitting a kind of wall.

The Pirates were convinced they could fix him.

One week the Pirates focused on elevating the fastball, the next it was about when to expand the strike zone lower.

"These were things you think maybe had been in place? In his case maybe not so much," said Hurdle. "So yeah, it has been a very engaging process for [pitching coach] Ray [Searage]."

There were mechanical and delivery issues.

Searage has seen significant growth beyond the mechanics. He said Volquez is completely willing to listen, absorb and to try new things.

He also is still a kid at heart.

"There's a good and a bad to that, OK," said Searage. "Because he's young, and the years before his foundation really wasn't cemented coming up through the minor leagues. He was a very talented kid so he breezed right through. The foundation we're trying to build right now is being able to control those emotions. That's one of the things he never really had. I want him to be happy-go-lucky but I also want him to be focused and disciplined when he's out on the mound.

"Sometimes they meld into each other and then you've got problems."

Searage said Volquez can occasionally stray from his instincts and turn into that tornado on the mound.

His mind jumps to too many things at once, and the results aren't good.

"He wants to win. He competes. But sometimes he overcooks stuff, he speeds himself up," said Searage. "He'll be trying to control the running game and control the pitch at the same time. It's either pick or pitch. You've got to decide which one. He gets high anxiety with runners on, speeds up; he's walking around the mound thinking about what he wants to do. What he ends up doing is subtracting from his natural instincts. Once you work quicker, you have less time to think, more time to react and let your body do what it's capable of.

"I don't want him to be stone-faced. I want him to have emotion, but he's got to be able to keep it close to the vest."

Then Volquez will go ahead and have a day like Sunday against the Mets. He allowed eight hits through six shutout innings and dealt with runners on base in every inning but rarely got distracted.

"What is consistency for Edinson?" Searage asked. "That's one of the things I keep harping on with him. What is it? Controlling your emotions? Are you pitching to the hitter or to the umpire? These are things he has to learn. And he's getting there."

At 6-6, with a 4.07 ERA, more of his days are like Sunday.

He has an audience back home. His mom gets the Major League Baseball package and watches every game. Volquez is the youngest of four, the only boy, and is a new father of twins.

As for that personality?

"My whole life. That's the personality I have," said Volquez. "I try to be the same guy every day. On and off the field, too. You're going to see me the same guy, smiling, having fun with what I'm doing. Heh heh."

There's that laugh again.

"You cannot live in the past, you've got to move forward," said Volquez. "Bad game? Put it in the back and let it go. Move it forward."

His wife and twin daughters, who come to every start, are probably waiting.

Jenn Menendez: jmenendez@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1959 and Twitter @JennMenendez.

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