Volquez making Reds believers

Volquez making Reds believers

SARASOTA, Fla. -- For those of you wondering why the Reds were willing to trade Josh Hamilton for Edinson Volquez, the answer was on display at Ed Smith Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

"You just saw why we got him," Reds catcher Javier Valentin said. "He showed what people expect to see of him."

Matched against Philadelphia's Brett Myers and facing a lineup that included Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, Volquez pitched five scoreless innings.

The right-hander struck out six to boost his spring total to 19 -- more than any pitcher in the Grapefruit or Cactus Leagues through Sunday's early games. He's racked up that impressive total in just 13 innings. Volquez gave up just three hits, all singles, and lowered his ERA to 3.46. He has walked only three batters.

Spring Training results can be misleading, but there's no denying Volquez has a Major League repertoire.

Volquez got Rollins, the reigning National League Most Valuable Player, to chase a changeup for strike three in the first. Moments later he fanned Howard, the 2006 NL MVP, on another changeup.

"That changeup is his best pitch," Valentin said. "He had it today. He's got four pitches he can throw anytime [and] he's not afraid to use them."

Volquez is making a serious bid for a spot in the Reds rotation. If the 24-year-old Dominican can keep throwing his changeup, fastball, curveball and slider for strikes with this frequency, the Reds may have something special. And if Monday's scheduled starter, Johnny Cueto, keeps wowing scouts, Reds staff and everyone else, the Reds might be ready to make some noise in the NL Central.

Such notions are premature for now. Any Rangers fan will tell you Volquez has shown flashes of brilliance before, only to fall on hard times when control problems undermined his efforts.

The kid says this time is different.

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"Not like this," he said when asked about those teasing performances in Texas. "I feel more comfortable now, [I'm] throwing more strikes. That's what I was looking for, throwing more strikes and being consistent in the zone."

There's one other difference, according to Volquez.

"I'm controlling my emotions, too," he said, then laughed, "I'm getting older, man!"

Volquez has been getting tips on pitching mechanics from Reds instructor Mario Soto.

Soto, you might recall, had a changeup second to none, one that helped the right-hander fan 1,449 batters in 297 games back in the '80s.

Having a great changeup and knowing how to use it effectively don't always go hand in hand. But Volquez seems to be learning quickly. For example, he figured Howard would be sitting on his changeup the second time up with two strikes so he went with the fastball instead.

"I know he was looking for a changeup, that's what the good hitters do," Volquez said.

Howard, late on the fastball, didn't get a great swing, but managed to get enough of the ball to drop a base hit to center. Volquez would later strike out Geoff Jenkins swinging to end the inning.

The Reds might miss Hamilton, himself having a fine spring for the Rangers, but it is clear Volquez can pitch.

For 2008 the only question is where. Will it be in Cincinnati, or the Minor Leagues?

Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.