BRADENTON, Fla. -- Wherever Edinson Volquez goes, a spotlight follows. Not that he is so critical to the 2014 Pirates' fate. He is, however, the team's lone significant offseason addition and carries all the weight and consequence attached to that.
After three rough outings -- the last the roughest -- Volquez needed a sharp showing in his Saturday start against the Rays, just to give everyone a little breathing room. He finally got it, at the end of his 3 1/3-innings outing.
Volquez allowed runs in each of his first three innings, then retired the last four batters he faced, enabling him to leave the McKechnie Field mound on a positive note. Two groundouts and two strikeouts added up to his best sequence of the spring and a wide post-outing smile in the clubhouse.
"I'm very happy right now," Volquez said. "[Pitching coach Ray Searage] says it's a long process, and I feel like we're really close. We got a plan to work on my fastball command, and I threw a lot of first-pitch strikes today."
To be precise, to 15 of the 17 batters he faced, which is exceptional. Through the first three-plus innings, however, many of them reached base and four of them scored. At that point, Volquez had worked nine innings this spring, hadn't retired the side in any off them and allowed runs in seven of them, a total of 13. He entered the game with an ERA of 14.29 and left it with an ERA of 11.00.
"I know the number doesn't look good. But they love what I've been doing," Volquez said, referring to manager Clint Hurdle and Searage. "They have a pretty good idea what you want to do, and try to make you better."
"I'm encouraged," Searage said. "There were some good things there, and I'm going to hunt the good. He made some good strides; stuff like this doesn't happen overnight, and I'm not going to give up on this guy."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.