Three weeks before full-squad workouts begin in Surprise, Ariz., Royals manager Ned Yost was in no rush to anoint an opening day starter. But one of the primary candidates for the assignment, veteran right-hander Edinson Volquez, had his own take on the subject: He’s fine if he doesn’t start opening day.
“I don’t like it anymore,” Volquez said last month while returning to Kansas City for Royals FanFest. “I like to enjoy the opening day. All the shows and people (and) fans. When you pitch opening day, you don’t have too much chance to enjoy it. You got to go to the bullpen, warm up and jump in the game.”
Volquez has started opening day three times in his career — once with the Cincinnati Reds and twice with the San Diego Padres. He could make it four in 2016. Yost remained mum on the subject last weekend, but the assignment will likely fall to Volquez or right-hander Yordano Ventura, who took the mound on opening day last season.
Each player has a case for the honor. Volquez is entering the second season of a two-year, $20 million deal that also includes a $10 million mutual option for 2017. In his first season in Kansas City, he finished 13-9 with a 3.55 ERA over 200 1/3 innings. In a rotation that endured a season-ending injury to Jason Vargas and bouts of inconsistency from Ventura, Volquez was the personification of steadiness.
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He was also solid in October, throwing six scoreless innings against Toronto in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series and offering two quality starts during the World Series, including a Game 1 performance that came just hours after the death of his father, Daniel.
“I still can’t believe that we won,” said Volquez, who spent the bulk of his offseason at home in the Dominican Republic. “I think we’re going to put that away when we go back to Arizona.”
The Royals, though, remain bullish on Ventura’s future and upside as a front-end starter. Yost has compared his struggles in 2015 to the growing pains experienced by position players Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer in recent seasons. But as club officials sort through the starting rotation, they could opt to alleviate pressure on Ventura by allowing him to take the No. 2 spot in the rotation.
“I’m not telling you who’s slotting in anywhere,” Yost said at FanFest.
For now, Volquez said he was slated to report this week to the Royals’ facility in Surprise, Ariz., the week before pitchers and catchers report on Feb. 18. His workload during spring training could be light. He threw a career-high 235 2/3 innings in 2015, including the postseason, and his velocity peaked during October. But after an offseason working out at home in the Dominican Republic, Volquez said he entered the new year feeling healthy and fresh.
“I feel good, man,” Volquez said. “I think I finished really strong. I think I finished really fresh. I think I worked really hard to during the season to prepare myself to pitch in October and November. It was easy for me to pitch those innings.”
One year later, the Royals are counting on Volquez to carry an heavy innings load again. For the moment, at least, Volquez is cool if that load doesn’t begin on opening day.
“We’ll see,” Volquez said. “I say that right now. But I’ll maybe change my mind if they give me the opportunity to pitch that first game.”