(Justin McIlwee/Indianapolis Indians)
Volstad Excels in Return to Bigs
Before Wednesday, it had been more than two years since Chris Volstad last pitched in the Major Leagues. There was no rust to show.
Pitching at PNC Park with the Pittsburgh Pirates within striking distance of the Cincinnati Reds, down 5-2 in the seventh inning, he efficiently navigated two scoreless frames on a pair of singles and four groundouts. He tossed 14 of his 20 pitches for strikes while giving his offense a solid opportunity to make up lost ground.
Volstad told media after the game it felt good to get back to the big leagues — A feeling echoed by his big-league skipper, Clint Hurdle.
“He came as advertised from the reports we got,” Hurdle said. “I think he helped us tonight. Six guys retired on three pitches or less. It was a very efficient two-inning outing. He showed up well.”
The towering, 6’8″ Volstad had pitched in 14 games for Triple-A Indianapolis prior to this year’s big league debut, working both in the rotation with 12 starts and out of the bullpen with two relief appearances. He went 5-2 with a 3.43 ERA and 50 strikeouts over those combined Triple-A outings.
The righty’s versatility was immediately put to the test against the Reds.
In just his eighth time working in relief through 130 Major League outings during his career, Volstad worked a 1-2-3 bottom of the seventh that featured retiring former National League MVP Joey Votto, 2014 NL All-Star Todd Frazier and two-time Silver Slugger Award winner Jay Bruce.
“He was a needed arm at the time, and we’ll see how long we need to go that way until we settle things down (with a taxed bullpen) a little bit,” Hurdle said.
Volstad set the stage for a return to the big leagues with a 2.82 ERA and tying for the most wins in the International League (four) over six starts leading up to his late scratch (to join Pittsburgh) from a scheduled Triple-A appearance on June 22.
He has now seen big league action with the Marlins, Cubs and Rockies since his MLB debut in 2008.
Bowker Hopes to Spark Lineup in Tribe Reunion
Newly (re)acquired John Bowker is no stranger to Indianapolis. The power-hitting lefty appeared in 131 games with the Indians from 2010-11 when he was acquired as part of a trade-deadline deal between the Pittsburgh Pirates and San Francisco Giants.
He jolted the Indians lineup some four seasons back, hitting .309 with 19 home runs and 86 RBIs.
Now, returning from three seasons of on-and-off play internationally, Bowker is again both back and looking to add a spark to a scuffling Tribe lineup. And will do so on a Tribe team that ranked 12th of 14 in the International League with just 30 home runs in the first 73 games.
“I had a few different stops along the way since the last time I was here,” Bowker said. “Going to Philadelphia for a month and then overseas to Japan for three years…I had a good time but I’m excited to be back. I’m happy to be back in Indianapolis.”
The traveled Bowker opened this season hitting .264 with three homers and 12 RBIs over 43 games with the San Francisco Giants’ Triple-A affiliate in Sacramento. He was shuttled between the active roster and disabled list, and as the Indians faced a similar scenario with first baseman Hunter Morris, his acquisition became a perfect match on paper.
“At this point I’m still trying to find my swing, still trying to get back to finding my old stroke that I had before,” Bowker said of hitless efforts through his first four games with Indianapolis. “I try to stick with my line drives; At Victory Field, a line drive is going to be a hit.”
That same theory applies on the road, as well, with Bowker adjusting his approach to collect seven hits in seven games during the recent road trip. He also added a run scored, one double, an RBI and pair of multi-hit efforts as one of the few highlights during the Indians’ recent six-game skid.
“My job is to come in here and help the team in any way I can,” Bowker said. “I’m just going to keep [positive momentum] going in the right direction.”
Expectations Rise with Garcia’s Performance
The expectations are high for outfield prospect Willy Garcia. Along with the likes of Jameson Taillon, Nick Kingham and Elias Diaz, Garcia was added to the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 40-man roster this offseason as protection from the Rule 5 Draft.
In-turn, Garcia received a fourth straight invite to big league spring training with the Pirates, where he went 5-for-21 (.238) with two runs, two doubles, a homer and three RBIs over 13 appearances.
The playing time was a three-fold increase from his previous years in camp.
“Willy showed some great growth from last year to this year,” Pirates Senior Vice President & General Manager Neal Huntington said this offseason. “We’re continuing to work to help him grow as a player, and turn him from a prospect into a good player.”
Garcia’s bar was especially lofty following a 2014 campaign of 45 extra-base hits and a “best tools” rankings from Baseball America.
He took the pressure in stride, batting .314 with hits in 41 of 53 total outings for Double-A Altoona through April and May. He capped his Double-A tenure by hitting safely in 19 straight games for the second-longest streak in the Eastern League this year.
Then, in his first appearance in a Tribe uniform, Garcia went hitless in four at-bats with two strikeouts.
“He’s still making the adjustment to Triple-A,” Indians hitting coach Butch Wynegar said during the team’s road trip in Gwinnett. “The biggest adjustment (for him) is pitchers at this level have more of what I call ‘pitch ability;’ In Double-A, he probably saw more fastballs, especially in hitters’ counts, and then once they get up here, there’s a little more moving the ball around, and he doesn’t always see that 2-1 fastball he might have with Altoona.”
Garcia is quickly working through the transition.
Since his 0-for-4 debut, the 22 year old is batting .292 with seven hits in 24 at-bats. He’s doubled, tripled, scored three times and plated two runs over the last seven outings.
He’s also struck out at least once in every game, which according to Huntington – who compared Garcia’s development to the reigning IL Player of the Month, Alen Hanson – is just part of the process.
“In Willy’s case, we’re challenging him to command the zone better, something similar to what we just got done talking about with Alen (Hanson),” Huntington said. “And he’s been doing that…Willy’s getting very close to being ready to [successfully handle the challenges at the Triple-A level].”