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07/14/08 3:52 PM ET
Classic a long way from Bakersfield
Volquez rebounded nicely after devastating demotion in '07
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
NEW YORK -- Bakersfield, Calif., and New York City. Edinson Volquez let out a big laugh when the two cities were mentioned Monday. The mere discrepancy between those two cities -- better than any stat or scouting report or explanation about Volquez's 2008 season -- best explains just how far the Reds right-hander has come in the past year.
From a devastating demotion to high-A ball by the Rangers in Spring Training of '07 to his first appearance on an All-Star roster for Tuesday's game at Yankee Stadium, Volquez has, indeed, come quite far.
How did he do it?
"Talk to him," Volquez said, pointing to the bespectacled man standing to the left of his podium at the All-Star media availability at the Grand Hyatt hotel.
That man was Len Strelitz, Volquez's agent and, most importantly, friend through what was a humbling 2007.
The Rangers, who had plucked Volquez out of the Dominican Republic and given him his first opportunities in the big leagues in 2005 and 2006, took the drastic measure of sending him down to A-ball, following a formula that worked for Roy Halladay and the Blue Jays in 2001.
But the Rangers didn't just want Volquez to refine his command or work on his changeup. They also handed down a list of demands that had nothing to do with his pitching. For one, they weren't all that pleased with his mannerisms on the mound -- the way he'd punch his glove or throw his head back when plays or calls didn't go his way.
"Texas misunderstood his personality," Strelitz said. "They took some of his mannerisms as a lack of focus and concentration, and it's not. Everybody has different ways of showing their emotions out there."
The Rangers wanted Volquez to tone down his act.
"They gave him a list of rules to abide by," Strelitz remembered. "Everything from the length of his hair to how he wore his uniform to how fast he got off the mound. It was a controlling atmosphere."
And Volquez had no control over what the Rangers wanted to do with him. So off to A-ball he went.
"It was tough, man," he said of the experience. "It was not easy."
Volquez put up a 7.13 ERA in seven starts for the Bakersfield Blaze. At times, he thought of simply packing up and going home. Strelitz often found himself having to talk his client out of such crazy notions.
"We were having phone conversations where he'd say, 'I'm not happy, they don't like me, I'm going home,'" Strelitz said. "His first game [in Bakersfield], he pitched five innings, and in the fifth inning, he gave up a couple of hits, and a guy hit one up into the wind. He gave up four runs. Just like that your ERA's about nine, you're in A-ball, you were in the big leagues last year. It had to be tough. But he persevered and saw the light at the end of the tunnel."
That perseverance carried Volquez up the Minor League ladder and back to the big leagues in September of last season. Still, he was far from a finished product, and the Rangers shipped him off to the Reds in what has quickly become one of baseball's more intriguing recent trades.
Both of the principles of that trade -- Volquez and Josh Hamilton -- are now representing their new clubs in the Midsummer Classic. As far as All-Star storylines go, Hamilton's comeback from a drug addiction can't reasonably be topped, but Volquez's tale is pretty intriguing, as well.
A breakthrough of sorts came when Strelitz pointed out to Volquez that he was delivering his changeup from a lower slot than his fastball. Opposing batters were picking up on the tip and pouncing.
"I told him, 'You're throwing your good changeup, and they're not even reacting to it,'" Strelitz said. "I think they're seeing it out of your hands."
Handed a job in the Reds' starting rotation, the 25-year-old Volquez has made that adjustment in his delivery, developed a slider that has proven to be an effective weapon and amassed an impressive 11-3 record and 2.36 ERA through 19 games.
And he's done all this without changing who he is -- funky hair, wild mannerisms and all.
"[The Reds] gave me the confidence," Volquez said. "They said, 'Do your job, have fun on the mound and do everything how you do it.' That's what I'm doing. I just go out there and have fun."
He's certainly having a lot of fun. And the fun will be kicked up a notch over the next two days, as Volquez, who should be available to pitch one inning Tuesday night, enjoys the life of an All-Star.
And when the All-Star invitation was handed out, Volquez knew just who he wanted alongside for the ride. It was, after all, Strelitz who urged him to hang in there when the Rangers bumped him back to Bakersfield and Strelitz who called him one day in April to offer a flattering assessment of his work.
"I called him about the third or the fourth game of the year and told him, 'It's official.'" Strelitz said. "He said, 'What do you mean?' I said, 'You are the best pitcher in baseball.'"
"I just want to win," he told his agent. "I just want to win."
Volquez has won himself a spot among the game's elite, and he's come a long, long way from Bakersfield.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.