PITTSBURGH PIRATES starting pitcher Edinson Volquez throws long toss in the outfield during a team workout at PNC Park in Pittsburgh on Tuesday. Volquez gets the start against the San Francisco Giants in tonight’s National League baseball Wild Card game in Pittsburgh.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES starting pitcher Edinson Volquez throws long toss in the outfield during a team workout at PNC Park in Pittsburgh on Tuesday. Volquez gets the start against the San Francisco Giants in tonight’s National League baseball Wild Card game in Pittsburgh.

PITTSBURGH

Edinson Volquez’s renaissance began with a simple game of catch.

During his brief session with Pittsburgh Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage on that January day at the team’s training facility in Florida, the talented but erratic right-hander listened as Searage outlined a plan to help the 31-year-old regain the form that once made him an All-Star.

“He felt wanted,” Searage said. “That builds trust.”

Ten months later, Volquez will try to repay that trust by sending the Pirates into the NL Division Series for the second straight year when he starts tonight’s wild-card game against San Francisco.

The raucous scene that awaits Volquez at PNC Park is in stark contrast to his ignominious exit from San Diego last summer, when the floundering Padres released him after a miserable stretch in which his ERA ballooned to 6.01.

“It’s kind of sad a little bit,” Volquez said. “You feel like your career is over.”

He ended 2013 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, where he showed minor improvement before hitting the free-agent market. But most teams hardly seemed interested in signing a pitcher who spent a half-decade struggling with his command and composure.

Yet he found a home in Pittsburgh, where the clubhouse has become an Ellis Island of sorts for players looking to regain something they’ve lost.

A year ago it was left-hander Francisco Liriano, who signed with the Pirates and put together a 16-8 season that included a victory over Cincinnati in the wild-card game. Liriano and Volquez are good friends, and while the $5 million flier Pittsburgh took on Volquez to be a back-of-the-rotation guy raised eyebrows, he remained confident he could make the changes necessary to become competitive.

Volquez responded by going 13-7 with a 3.04 ERA in a team-high 32 starts, the lone constant in a rotation that saw Liriano, Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton spend a significant amount of time on the disabled list. Volquez went 5-0 with a 1.64 ERA in his last 11 starts, his consistency one of the main reasons the Pirates sent Cole to the mound in the regular-season finale against Cincinnati in a last-ditch bid to win the NL Central. Cole was brilliant but Pittsburgh lost 4-1, putting its hopes of an extended playoff stay in Volquez’s maturing hands.

“He’s become a complete pitcher,” Searage said. “His evolution of becoming a major league pitcher has been nothing but forward.”

Another important step awaits.


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