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updated: 2/27/2012 4:53 PM

Uprooted, Cubs' Volstad has big opportunity

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  • A former No. 1 draft pick of the Marlins, Chris Volstad hopes to earn a spot in the Cubs starting rotation.

      A former No. 1 draft pick of the Marlins, Chris Volstad hopes to earn a spot in the Cubs starting rotation.
    Associated Press

  • At 6-foot-8, Chris Volstad is an imposing presence on the mound who relies on a sinker to get ground-ball outs.

      At 6-foot-8, Chris Volstad is an imposing presence on the mound who relies on a sinker to get ground-ball outs.
    Associated Press

  • Pitcher Chris Volstad goes through some fielding drills in Mesa, Ariz., as he prepares for his first season with the Cubs.

       Pitcher Chris Volstad goes through some fielding drills in Mesa, Ariz., as he prepares for his first season with the Cubs.
    BRUCE MILES | Staff Photographer

 
 

Chris Volstad is out of his comfort zone this spring.

Way out of it.

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And that might be a good thing.

The 25-year-old right-hander is in Cubs spring-training camp for the first time, having been traded by the Miami Marlins in the Carlos Zambrano deal on Jan. 5.

Players get traded all the time, but this was a major uprooting. Not only has Volstad played only for the Marlins since 2008, he's a native of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., where he remains a resident.

Welcome to the dry heat, Chris.

"Oh yeah," he said recently at the Cubs' Fitch Park complex in Mesa, Ariz. "The only time I've been out here each year before is for the Diamondbacks -- four games."

Not only will Volstad have to get used to the lack of humidity, the hard infields and the stunted break on the breaking balls in Arizona, he has to get used to a whole new routine.

"That's the biggest part actually, for spring training, especially because normally I'd still be at home for spring training," he said. "So finding a place out here, finding a car out here, all those little things I never had to think about or worry about, came into play. But once spring starts and the games start and you go to the field and you're at the field doing your work, the location doesn't affect you as much. Just the initial getting out here is the big change."

The term "change-of-scenery guy" always brings with it a pause. Usually, it means a player has failed to perform or live up to expectations in one place, so the "change of scenery" will do him good.

Volstad, the Marlins' first-round draft pick out of Palm Beach Gardens High School (16th overall) in 2005, was 5-13 with a 4.89 ERA last year. That was a setback from his 2010 record of 12-9 and 4.58 ERA. For his career, he is 32-39 with a 4.59 ERA and a WHIP (walks plus hits per 1 inning pitched) of 1.409.

So maybe moving from Miami to Chicago with that little stop in Mesa will be a good thing after all.

"Yeah, I guess we'll see but so far so good," he said. "They've welcomed me here. Everybody here has been great."

Cubs manager Dale Sveum, himself a newcomer, downplayed the impact of the change of scenery, especially one that involves a player getting away from his hometown.

"Who knows what the influences are playing at home or any of that?" Sveum said. "Some guys flourish on it. Some guys in the past have struggled with playing at home because of all the friends and family you have there. That's something. I doubt if that has anything to do with it.

"I think we just forget that the guy got to the big leagues really young and didn't pitch a whole lot, and he's had to learn at the big-league level with that kind of height, that kind of sinker. Sometimes it just takes a little longer to get big-league hitter out with the stuff that you have."

Even with Volstad's height, we're not talking about a right-handed Randy Johnson here. We're talking more of a guy who uses his height to create a "downward plane" on the ball to sink it.

That might come in handy at Wrigley Field, where the grass grows long and the wind can blow out during the hot summer months.

"Yeah, keep it down," Volstad said. "That's my game and what I really work on trying to do so that'll be big. Everybody talks about the wind blowing out, and it plays small sometimes but again, if you don't think about those things and worry about executing your pitches, then it doesn't matter where you're playing. If you give up a hard-hit ball in the air it has a chance to go out. It doesn't matter if you're here or San Francisco or wherever you're trying to make your best pitch."

Volstad says he feels he is competing for a rotation spot rather than approaching it as if he has one locked up. The only locks at this point are Nos. 1 and 2 starters Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster.

Lefties Travis Wood and Paul Maholm have good shots, leaving Volstad to compete against those two and right-handers Randy Wells, Casey Coleman and Jeff Samardzija, who is a good bet to go back to the bullpen after being "stretched out" to start in spring.

Volstad also says he feels no pressure to replace Zambrano or that he's missing out on a lot back home in Miami, with Ozzie Guillen taking over as manager and the Marlins opening a new ballpark.

"He was a big presence," Volstad said of Zambrano. "I don't really think about that. I just think about me coming in and trying to help the team.

"Yeah, it would have been nice to open the new stadium, but being here and playing in (Wrigley Field) every day is just as good, if not better. So definitely excited about that but, no, I don't feel like I'm missing out on anything, because of the spot I came to."

• Follow Bruce's reports on Twitter @BruceMiles2112 and check out his Chicago's Inside Pitch blog at dailyherald.com.

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