The Marlins opened Spring Training on Tuesday with Jose Fernandez still very present in their minds.
Edinson Volquez, a likely candidate to step into the top spot of the pitching rotation vacated following the tragic death of Fernandez last September in a boating accident, knows all too well about dealing with personal tragedy.
“It was something tough these guys went through last year just like I did with my own loss,” said Volquez on Tuesday as pitchers and catchers reported for their first day of workouts at Roger Dean Stadium. “I think Jose’s memory will serve as a motivation for them just like my family does for me and it will carry us a long way.”
Less than two months after Volquez signed a two-year, $22-million contract with the Marlins, his brother, 25-year old Brandy Volquez, was murdered in Santo Domingo.
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And in October of 2015, Volquez’s father, Danio, died of heart failure the same day Edinson started Game 1 of the World Series for the Royals. Volquez didn’t find out about his father’s death until after he pitched that night.
“I have learned to live with what happened,” Volquez said. “The best thing for me is to be in a big stadium and playing baseball and around my teammates and try to distance myself from that pain and just keep working hard.”
Volquez said at his introductory press conference at Marlins Park that he could never replace Fernandez. But the experience of the 33-year old right-handed veteran should no doubt benefit the Marlins both on and off the field.
“There’s a lot of fire in him and he’s a great competitor,” said Marlins pitching coach Juan Nieves. “You don’t realize what people go through until they talk about it. It’s amazing what human beings overall do to adapt and continue to keep on fighting the fight. It’s wonderful to have someone like him on this team and I think he’ll fit right in.”
On a rotation likely also consisting of Adam Conley, Wei-Yin Chen, Tom Koehler and Dan Straily, Volquez, an All-Star in 2008 with the Reds, has already earned “old guy” status.
“I am the old guy,” said Volquez with a laugh. “I’ve had a long career in the major leagues and the younger guys have probably seen me pitch since they were in the minors. It’s a great opportunity to come in and help them improve.”
The Marlins aren’t likely to name an Opening Day starter for a while as they evaluate their staff over the next few weeks.
Manager Don Mattingly said Tuesday that Volquez has all the credentials.
“Edinson is probably the one guy we’d probably look to as far as experience and someone who’s been through a lot,” Mattingly said. “Not very many teams have that pure ace. They have guys they call a No. 1 [starter], but I think a lot of our guys are similar.
“Edinson is the guy who’s been through the most having won a World Series before and having pitched in a lot of high-impact games.”
Volquez, who chose Miami to be close to home, is 89-79 with a 4.44 ERA for his career. He has headlined rotations with the Reds, Padres and Royals, and has seven postseason starts – three more than the rest of the Marlins’ potential starters combined.
Volquez’s numbers declined last season when he went 10-11 with a 5.37 ERA – something he’s credited to having pitched 229 innings the prior season during the Royals’ championship run.
The Marlins hope he will recapture the form of previous seasons such as his 2014 campaign with the Pirates when he went 13-7 with a 3.04 ERA coincidentally while working with Marlins vice president of pitching development Jim Benedict.
Volquez will likely get his first chance to pitch at Marlins Park with the Dominican Republic team in the opening round of the World Baseball Classic in March.
“It’s a great opportunity for me,” Volquez said. “We have good guys in here that are going to do their best whether it’s pitching as the No. 1 guy or No. 2 or wherever it is in the rotation. For me, it’s an honor to be here at this point in my life and my career and to be a part of this team.”