Royals’ Edinson Volquez looks to recapture ALCS opening magic

Royals starter Edinson Volquez pitched six scoreless innings against the Blue Jays in the ALCS opener.
Royals starter Edinson Volquez pitched six scoreless innings against the Blue Jays in the ALCS opener.

Pitcher and catcher warm up before the game, and discovery happens.

Maybe the curveball had extra bite or the fastball extra pop.

The preliminaries are over, and the pitcher and catcher walk to the dugout discussing the game plan shaped by them and the coaches. But based on the bullpen session, the plan is altered.

“Happens every day,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “Once you get into the bullpen, you figure out what’s working and what’s not.”

Except Edinson Volquez, the 11-year pro who changed things up at the last minute in the ALCS opener, had a different response.

“Not every often,” Volquez said when asked how often he’s veered from the game plan.

“This was my first time doing that, and it worked.”

No matter how frequently it does or doesn’t happen, the Royals are seeking more of the same performance from Volquez in Game 5 on Wednesday.

Volquez delivered a superb effort, scattering two hits over six innings in the Royals’ 5-0 victory in the opener.

The idea going into the game was to keep the powerful Blue Jays lineup uncomfortable by working inside. Instead, Volquez and Perez decided to operate down and away.

Volquez’s big moment came in the sixth inning, his third time through the batting order.

He walked the first two hitters, got two outs and fell behind Troy Tulowitzki 3-1. Tulowitzki fouled off the next pitch and on Volquez’s 37th pitch of the inning, he threw a 95 mph fast ball with late movement in the strike zone for the third out.

Volquez had commanded the early innings of his start in Game 3 of the ALDS against the Astros before giving up two in the fifth and one in the sixth. Volquez struck out eight but without offensive support, the Royals lost.

That left Volquez with a career postseason record of 0-3 with his first two losses in the National League. The victory last Friday was by far his best playoff effort, and now the Royals are asking him to do it again, this time in the less spacious Rogers Centre.

“I’ve just got to move forward,” Volquez said. “You’ve got to put that game in the past and you’ve got to move forward.”

Volquez will be facing his Game 1 counterpart, Marco Estrada, who got nicked for three runs while striking out six in 5  1/3 innings and was struck by the Royals’ approach.

“I pitched against them twice in the regular season and they’re just like any team,” Estrada said. “Some guys take, some guys don’t.

“But pitching against them in the playoffs, it was different. They’re really aggressive and noticed the two games after that they kept that up.”

Estrada started the most pressure-packed game for the Blue Jays in the ALDS, Game 3 against the Rangers on the road with Texas holding a series 2-0 lead.

He changed the course of the series with a 5-1 victory, going 6  1/3 innings and allowing one run.

“We were down 2-0 and I didn’t think about it that way,” Estrada said. “I thought it was the first game we played against them. You have to make pitches regardless.”

Blair Kerkhoff: 816-234-4730, @BlairKerkhoff