Edinson Volquez surrendered a home run early and loaded the bases late, but in between he delivered his finest Cactus League outing in his first spring training as a Royal. Volquez struck out eight Cubs in five innings of two-run baseball in a 7-0 loss on Sunday at Surprise Stadium.
“I think it was the best one of the whole spring training,” Volquez said, despite giving up six hits and a walk.
This was not the most difficult task in the world, given Volquez’s earlier struggles. The outing reduced his spring ERA to 7.79. Volquez gave up three runs in his first outing and two in his second. Then the poundings commenced. Milwaukee tagged him for six runs on March 18. The Giants dropped a four-spot on him on March 23.
Yet the Royals insisted there was little cause for concern for the player they signed to a two-year, $20 million deal this offseason to fill the vacancy created by James Shields’ departure. Team officials referenced his veteran status and his annual battles with his delivery.
Volquez can become prone to walks and long counts due to an inability to finish his delivery properly. Too often, pitches reach the upper region of the strike zone when they are meant for the bottom.
“He’s a guy that generally has these types of springs,” Yost said. “Because his mechanics at times get a little drifty. He breaks a little soon. And the repetition of getting his tempo and his timing back has been something I think that’s he dealt with most springs.”
Yost insists he spends little time analyzing spring outings from his established players. After Volquez departed, closer Greg Holland yielded four runs in the ninth. He gave up a two-run double to minor-leaguer Stephen Bruno and a two-run homer to outfield prospect Matt Szczur. Both hits came on 93-mph fastballs, a tick below Holland’s usual 95-mph offering.
“One of those days,” Yost said. “I don’t think anything one way or the other. It was just an outing. A spring-training outing.”
Yost offered similar bromides after Volquez’s initial outings. Volquez looked set for another problematic afternoon in the first inning. He let the count run full against Cubs catcher Miguel Montero. Then he hung a curveball.
“I don’t want to walk that guy and just flip it over there,” Volquez said. “I made sure to throw the ball for a strike. I just hung it. He’s a good hitter, too. I give him some credit. Nobody expects to see a breaking ball, 3-2. Especially in spring training.”
Montero was ready, and he made Volquez pay. But from there, Volquez steadied himself. Until the sixth inning, he did not allow a Cub to reach third base. He reported more precision with his fastball and more life with his change-up.
Chicago rolled out a lineup laden with promising prospects. Volquez fanned Kris Bryant with a fastball in the first. He bested Javier Baez with a change-up in the second. Montero swung through a curveball in the third.
Yost pulled Volquez from the game with no outs in the sixth and the bases loaded. After a pair of well-placed singles, Volquez walked Montero. It was his only free pass of the day. Reliever Joe Paterson limited the damage to one run, which improved Volquez’s spirits.
With only one outing left, an abbreviated affair this weekend in Houston, Volquez is content with his progress.
“I don’t want to say I’m 100 percent,” Volquez said. “But I think I’m probably 90 percent. I think everything worked today. I was throwing a lot more strikes. That’s what it’s all about.”