Padres' Volquez is ready to take Classic mulligan
PHOENIX -- Padres right-hander Edinson Volquez made his first Cactus League start on Monday at Maryvale Baseball Park against the Brewers, working two innings and throwing an efficient 22 pitches.
He'll have one more start on Saturday before departing Sunday for Tampa, Fla., to hook up with his Dominican Republic team that is preparing to begin World Baseball Classic play on March 7.
He hopes it doesn't turn out like the last time.
In 2009 in Puerto Rico, Volquez started the Classic opener when Team D.R. was upset by The Netherlands. He pitched three innings, giving up three unearned runs on two hits and whiffing three. The Dominicans lost twice to the Dutch and didn't make it out of that first round bracket.
Five months later, Volquez underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. He didn't return until July 17, 2010.
Padres manager Bud Black has his concerns about pitchers participating in the Classic and perhaps justifiably so.
"Hey, you're throwing for your country, on TV," Black said before the Padres defeated the Brewers, 7-1. "I just look at it and say, hey, I hope they're ready to throw with that effort because it's a different type of environment throwing in a WBC game for your country. Even though you're limited to 65 pitches, it's still the intensity and the adrenalin. Maybe the pressure some guys might feel. It's not the same pressure you might feel in a Spring Training game when you might be working on things. Man, you've got to get guys out."
Volquez threw a career-high 196 innings for the Reds in 2008, followed by a heavy stint of winter ball in the Dominican prior to his one outing in the Classic. The workload evidently took a toll on his arm.
"That was a lot of innings," said Volquez, who was 25 at the time and is 29 now. "[The injury] probably had something to do with it."
It's a little different this time, even though Volquez tossed 182 2/3 innings this past season after he was obtained in a five-player deal that sent Mat Latos to the Reds. This time, Volquez didn't follow up the season by pitching this past winter down in the Dominican. He knows he'll still have to crank it up to avenge his country's poor showing in 2009. During the first Classic played in '06, the Dominicans advanced as far as the semifinals before losing to Cuba.
"I threw four or five bullpens [at home] before I came to Spring Training," said Volquez, who was born and raised in Santo Domingo, the country's capital. "I've thrown four or five bullpens here and then again today. I feel like I'm 100 percent."
Volquez opened the game on Monday by walking the first batter before striking out the next four. He believes he's right on target for moving from Padres camp into the tournament. There are strict pitch counts for the Classic, a 65-pitch limit in the first round, 80 pitches in the second and 95 in the semifinals and final. Once any pitcher exceeds 50 pitches in a game, he can't be used again for four days. But it's the intensity of each pitch this time of year that has some baseball people concerned.
"Everybody is in a hurry a little bit, kind of rushing a little bit to get ready," Volquez said. "I think I did a pretty good job down in the Dominican before I came here to get ready for the WBC. I'm ready to go, man. I'll probably pitch one more game over here before I go to Florida."
The Dominicans again play the first round in Puerto Rico. They are in a very tough pool with Venezuela, Puerto Rico and Spain that will meet at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan from March 7-10, and Volquez again is one of their top starters. The Dominican Republic begins pool play against Venezuela and it's safe to say Volquez will be on the mound. Pittsburgh's Wandy Rodriguez is the only other option. Reds right-hander Johnny Cueto and a former teammate of Volquez in Cincinnati, won't pitch this time in the Classic. He is not on the Dominican roster.
"I don't know, I don't know," Volquez said when asked if he was going to start that first game like 2009 when he opened the tournament for the D.R. "They haven't told me anything yet."
About vanquishing the '09 performance, Volquez added: "We're all aware of that and we know what we have to do. We'll do the best we can."
The two pool winners in San Juan will move on to Miami's Marlins Park from March 12-16 and face the survivors of the Arizona pool that includes Team USA, Canada, Mexico and Italy.
The semifinals and finals are set for San Francisco's AT&T Park from March 17-19. All 39 games in the Classic will be televised by MLB Network.
Volquez is one of three Padres on their Major League roster ticketed for the Classic. The others are reliever Luke Gregerson, who'll play for the U.S., and right fielder Chris Denorfia for the Italians. While Black is upbeat about the tournament, he's still wary.
"It's a great experience for these guys," Black said. "Playing for your own country there's a spirit to that. I think from a position players side it's fine. You get your at-bats, you get your games. The pitching side, all of us, that's what we worry about. Throwing early like this, that's what we all talk about."
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow@boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.