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Cubs’ Volstad stays grounded

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Phil Rogers
March 14, 2012
— Chris Volstad’s heart lies at the beach, not too far, in fact, from where Carlos Zambrano lays his head every night.

On some level, he still would love to be with his hometown Marlins, getting ready to move into a the new stadium Ozzie Guillen will help christen. He wasn’t seeking a change when one came along, but he’s working to make the most of it.


Volstad is the anti-Zambrano—seemingly content being noticed only every fifth day on the mound.


Gatorade coolers need not fear him.


“I’m pretty low key, laid back,” said the 25-year-old right-hander, who was acquired from the Marlins for Zambrano. “If something doesn’t go my way, I get upset about it but … if something bothers you, you still have to make your pitches. After the fact you can go somewhere and do what you need to do.”


There has been no need during Volstad’s first spring in Arizona, which continues to go remarkably well. He has pitched so well working with Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio that you wonder how the Marlins could have seen the tightly strung Zambrano as an upgrade.


Volstad worked three scoreless innings against a Giants lineup loaded with regulars Tuesday. He pounded the strike zone with two-seam sinkers and mixed in more four-seam fastballs than had been his norm with the Marlins, and it barely mattered that his slider didn’t have its usual depth.


Eight of the 11 batters Volstad faced either hit ground balls or struck out (pitcher Madison Bumgarner), and the hits he allowed were a pair of two-out singles. It gave him six scoreless innings over two outings, with four strikeouts, no walks and only three hits allowed.


“I’m really just trying to attack the zone, locate pitches, get a lot of ground balls,” Volstad said.


It’s early. Very early. But here’s a question for fans looking for reasons to be optimistic on either side of Chicago—could Volstad be this year’s Doug Fister?


Like the guy who was the Tigers’ No. 2 starter in a run to the American League Championship Series last season, Volstad is a sturdy 6 feet 8 but he won’t overpower hitters. He throws a tick harder than Fister, but still his fastball averaged only 90.8 mph last season. He elevated too many of them, which resulted in 23 home runs in his 1652/3 innings. How’s he going to be on the days the wind blows out at Wrigley Field?


Volstad says Bosio has him throwing more four-seam fastballs. But watching Fister also has helped give him a map he didn’t always have in his four seasons in Miami, when the Marlins repeatedly were changing managers and pitching coaches.


“I watched him during the playoffs,” Volstad said. “He was throwing that sinker down all day. He was pitching incredibly. He is a guy I can kind of watch a little bit.”


Fister wasn’t exactly front and center in fantasy drafts last spring when he was coming off a 2010 in which he was 6-14 with a 4.11 ERA in only 171 innings for the Mariners. The Marlins soured on Volstad, their first-round pick in 2005, because he regressed in 2011. He was 5-13 with a 4.89 ERA, which raised his career ERA to 4.59.


A 200-inning season from Volstad (who never has thrown more than 175) would be a step back toward respectability for a team whose starters compiled a 4.79 ERA last season, the worst mark in the National League and third-worst in the majors. Take Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza out of the mix and the Cubs’ other starters—Zambrano and seven others—were 26-41 with a 5.36 ERA.


It seems almost automatic the Cubs will improve significantly with Garza, Dempster, Volstad and Paul Maholm sitting pretty for spots, and Randy Wells, Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood and Rodrigo Lopez trying to force their way into the mix.


Volstad hasn’t been assured a spot, but he figures to open the season as the No. 3 or 4 starter. He will be wide-eyed when he gets to Chicago, as he says South Florida is “all I’ve ever known.”


Not long before the Marlins traded him, Volstad bought a place in Juno Beach, near both his hometown of Palm Beach Gardens and the Marlins’ complex in Jupiter. He most likely will rent in Wrigleyville this summer but could stick around a long time if he keeps throwing strikes and getting ground balls.



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