Sunday, September 2, 2007
The return of Volqueso
The standard’s not high for pitching in Arlington. It never has been.
The franchise has sought to change it in every way possible; drafting high schoolers and calling them up during the very same year, paying veterans without an established track record of success the big bucks; There was even an incident in which the organization tried out much-maligned outfielder and steroid lightning rod Jose Canseco on the mound.
History has come to show, though, that a decision maker must disregard all that he has seen in the past and hold true to this truism. Pitching is manufactured, not bought.
The tales and travels of Edinson Volquez are many for a young hurler. Once seen as the great bastion of hope for a franchise starved for arms, Volquez got a major league callup during a time when he was undoubtedly unprepared. Talented as he unquestionably is, Edison, as he was known at the time, lacked in development both on and off the field. He relied too much on his terrific heater and change of pace, neglecting the breaking pitch and not having control in any of the three. He was a thrower, not a pitcher. Rare back and watch them gape. Unfortunately, that stratagem doesn’t work quite as well in the bigs. Neither did his mentality. Volquez, ever confident in his golden right arm, was not one to bother with pitching coaches or lineup cards. The catcher’s pitch calling was a formality, to be ignored, and game film held the same level of appeal as Raymond reruns.
Needless to say, the major league whackers feasted on his deliveries with great eagerness, and Volquez threw progressively worse. Things were looking dim for the young fireballer, and a drastic measure was agreed upon by those in a position of authority.
Rangers pitching coach Mark Connor, formerly an employee of the Blue Jays in Toronto, had a plan in mind. Once upon a time, a talented pitcher by the name of Roy Halladay came under Connors’ tutelage. After Halladay struggled on the major league level, with the problems cited being a lack of control and maturity, Connor decided to hit the reset button. Halladay was sent to throw with the dregs and the toddlers: That mysterious bunch of performers who labor in A-Ball.
In retrospect, the move panned out. Halladay has 2 Cy Young awards to his name and consistently gets lauded for his preparation regimen.
Seeing little recourse, Connor decided that he had a new test subject for the Time Machine Plan, and Edinson Volquez was shipped from Spring training in Surprise to A-Ball in Bakersfield.
SEPTEMBER FIRST, LOS ANGELES OF ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA.
The rangers have called up yet another hurler. He’s one of the countless many who have made their way to the mound in the first inning of a game, the latest arrival in a varied and motley assortment. But somehow, fans get the feeling that this one is different.
He’s come a long way to be here. His forays began with some very low-profile struggles in a low-profile league. He was called up to pitch in the city of Frisco after seven starts, establishing a standard of success there. The pitcher then went on to embarrass AAA hitters for the Oklahoma City Redhawks.
The prodigal son had finally returned.
There was no fanfare heralding this game. The right-hander’s big-league debut had been covered extensively in newspapers, scrutinized ad nauseum on the air. This time around, it didn’t merit coverage anywhere near that level. The Rangers faithful had grown weary of the circus that this player had become. Untrusting of any who threw from the mound for their club, they treated the callup with disdain-a desperate measure from a club lacking major league throwers. And if the skeptics are amongst my loyal fan base, allow me this disclaimer- I don’t blame you.
Nevertheless, Volquez had evoked in me a certain degree of confidence for his abilities. Ask me, then, skeptics, why?
Because the man has evolved. He’s no longer the foolishly cocky youngster who drew back and fired with disdain to location or batter mentality and preference. No longer the naïve fool who believed that such an approach would work.
One may look at Volquez’s start today and deem it unsatisfactory. But I ask you this: Did you expect this?
Edinson Volquez wasn’t spectacular. He wasn’t dominant. And he wasn’t the Edinson Volquez that we’ll see in the future. Of that I am certain.
He threw well on a day when he didn’t have his best stuff. His fastball didn’t have its usual scorch, his changeup was mostly straight. But he overcame those limitations and Pitched-a concept most would have deemed beyond his vocabulary. He threw with intelligence and with knowledge, threw with purpose, and mustered up enough of his nastiness to escape the big inning. All against one of the better hitting teams in baseball, a team that has owned the Rangers since the arrival of Vlad the Destroyer.
I believe that Edinson Volquez benefited greatly from Mark Connors’ decision earlier this year. The team has retained a pivotal puzzle piece, one that most thought lose forever.
Embrace Edinson. Ladies and gentlemen, it is my belief that he is here to stay.