Pittsburgh Pirates: The Edinson Volquez project

Edinson Volquez

Edinson Volquez

Edinson Volquez has been very disappointing so far this spring training, and the Pittsburgh Pirates season begins next Monday with the right-hander still struggling to find his grove.

The Pirates signed the 30-year-old pitcher to a one-year, $5 million deal over the offseason as a reclamation project with hopes that Volquez could turn his career around much like A.J. Burnett and Francisco Liriano did.

Volquez is coming off a 5.71 ERA last season where  he issued 4.1 walks per nine innings, threw 16 wild pitches and allowed a league-high 108 runs in 170 innings.

Pittsburgh hopes to get the right-hander back to his 2008 form, where he posted a 3.21 ERA and 206 strikeouts with the Cincinnati Reds, but has since failed to post a sub-4.00 ERA.

The Pirates had hoped that pitching coach Ray Searage could work his magic with Volquez. However, that has yet to happen, and the Dominican Republic native has posted a 9.64 ERA in five games, surrendering 17 runs on 19 hits, while walking 12.

The Pirates still believe in Volquez, but for how much longer will the team have to endure his struggles before they realize this acquisition was a flop?

Unlike Liriano, Volquez has not had any signs of brilliance during his five years of struggles.

On Friday against the Yankees, his change up got sharper as the game went on and he still has a good velocity, reaching 94 at times, but his command is not good. However, catcher Russell Martin sees promise in Volquez’s bullpen sessions.

“Mechanically he’s there. To put it in play when you go out and compete it’s different,” said Martin. “Things can speed up and it’s hard to stay within yourself because of that energy. But the fact is, in practice, in the bullpen, he’s got his fastball. He’s got that confidence going. We know the ability is there. To put it in the game, it takes repetition.”

If his Pirates’ teammates and coaches see potential in practice, then why is taking so long to put it together in the games?

If Volquez doesn’t put it together, it will ultimately hurt the Pirates’ chances on building off of last season.

The first four starters of the Pirates’ rotation is solid with Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, Wandy Rodriguez and Charlie Morton having solid camps, but the Pirates will need to put a fifth starter on the mound.

Jeff Locke will not be ready to go at the start of the season after sustaining an oblique strain a few weeks ago and will likely begin the season on the disabled list. Jeanmar Gomez has had a strong spring, and he did hold down the fort for the Pirates last season when the starting rotation suffered some injuries. Brandon Cumpton impressed the Pirates in his handful of appearances last year but he started off the spring shaky. In recent appearances he has made it difficult for the Pirates to ignore him.

First, he has thrown more innings than any other Pirates’ pitcher. So far this spring, he has made six appearances with two starts, and stands at 1-0 with an era of 2.21. He has 12 strikeouts, but does have six walks.

In his start on Wednesday, he went five scoreless innings, allowing only two hits, making it hard to deny the right-hander.

Another option may be the newly acquired Vance Worley. The 25-year-old right-hander was an 11-game winner in 2011, posting a 3.01 ERA for the Phillies, but he has struggled greatly since.

The Minnesota Twins out righted Worley after a horrid spring this year. A few days prior to being cut by the Twins, Worley allowed 11 hits and seven runs in 2 2/3 innings against Tampa Bay. He has a 13.50 ERA in four appearances.

If Searage can get Worley back on track, he could be a potential fifth candidate.

The Pirates have options for a fifth starter, but for how much longer must fans be subject to the Volquez project?

Volquez is scheduled to make one more appearance In Pirates City before the club heads north. If he struggles, that should be the end of this disaster of a project. However, the Pirates will likely not agree and Volquez will be the fifth starter.