Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Volquez happy, hairless

Edinson Volquez is one of the happiest people I've ever met, as evidenced by his cheeky grin that not even 40 walks and a 5.74 ERA in 58 innings could completely diminish.

But frustration has its limits. And following a particularly dreadful outing, the previously dreadlocked Reds right-hander decided to throw his team under the bus, saying they needed to score more runs. Shortly thereafter Volquez boarded a figurative bus bound for Triple-A Louisville.

But Volquez, whose mental toughness has been repeatedly questioned dating back to his days with the Rangers, made the most of his minor league stint. He worked, he listened, he shaved his head.

Volquez returned to the big leagues on Tuesday - sans dreadlocks - and delivered one of his strongest outings of the season, allowing one run in seven innings in a victory over the Cubs. It was the first time this season that Volquez had reached the seventh inning, largely due to a series of first-inning meltdowns that exhausted his pitch count.

History shows that pitchers coming off Tommy John surgery perform better during their first full season back. But Volquez' issues aren't as much related to velocity and arm strength as they are to command and confidence. Want to predict how Volquez will fare on a given night? Just check the body language.

Beneath Volquez' happy-go-lucky exterior lies a fierce competitor who wants badly to succeed. Some guys harness this and channel it into concentration and intensity. Others sulk. No pitcher has his best stuff every time out. The great ones make do without. Volquez has much to learn in this regard.

While pitching is the key for most teams it's particularly so for the Reds whose NL Central Division title 'peat hopes rest on the live young arms of Volquez, Travis Wood, Homer Bailey, Johnny Cueto, and to a lesser extent Mike Leake.

On Wednesday morning Volquez proudly displayed the clutch of hair previously attached to his head. CBSSports.com's Trent Rosecrans snapped a photo.

"It was too hot," Volquez said. So far he's been able to withstand the heat.

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