05/20/08 10:00 AM ET
Phenom grew up following Dodgers
Reds' Volquez idolized countryman Pedro in LA
By John Klima / Special to MLB.com
Volquez, whose 1.33 ERA leads the Major Leagues, made his first visit to Dodger Stadium on Monday as a member of the Cincinnati Reds. He said he began following Martinez when he was a Dodger in the early 90s.
Though he was only 11 when Martinez was traded to the Montreal Expos, Volquez's Martinez fascination continued into his teenage years.
"Pedro, I looked up to him a lot, starting when he was here," Volquez said. "I never missed a game when he pitched."
Though he said he grew up around players who had been signed by the Dodgers and played in the team's Minor League system, Volquez said he would have embraced the opportunity to sign with the Dodgers, largely because he wanted to follow in Martinez's footsteps.
But Volquez said that at the time he wasn't the power pitcher that he has become now, one who is second in the National League with seven victories and one strikeout behind San Francisco's Tim Lincecum for the MLB lead.
Volquez said he threw only in the high 80s and played shortstop when he wasn't playing basketball. Still, he said the Dodgers remained such a presence where he grew up that he wondered if the team's reach would extend into his future.
"The Dodgers signed a lot of guys who were very close to my house," Volquez said.
He also said that he was easy to miss at that stage. "Not the Dodgers, not the Braves, nobody was really on me," he said. "Just the Marlins, Colorado and Texas."
Texas originally signed him for the modest sum of $27,000 in October 2001.
"I was throwing like 87-88 mph at the time I signed," Volquez said. "That was my average fastball. I had good movement. But like two months later, I was at 92. It was unreal."
These days, Volquez comfortably works in the 92-95 mph range.
Volquez said that he had worried about signing with the Dodgers then, but admitted that the lure of following Pedro would have been tempting.
"I was kind of scared [about] signing with the Dodgers, because they were signing a lot of players I know who were getting released," he said. "I didn't even think about the Dodgers. One of the guys, when I was little, I think he worked for the Dodgers and was [involved with] Adrian Beltre."
Volquez has other things in common with Martinez beyond their both being Dominican. They were both traded early in their Major League careers by their respective first organizations; Martinez to Montreal for Delino DeShields and Volquez from Texas for Josh Hamilton.
Volquez has also had success because he throws a solid changeup, Martinez's signature out pitch.
"The success has come from throwing his fastball from the same slot that his changeup comes out of," said Lenny Strelitz, a former Minor League pitcher and Texas Rangers scouting director who Volquez credits for helping him refine his delivery with extensive video work.
"I just encouraged him to go back to his natural arm slot with all his pitches. I think big league hitters were sitting on his changeup because they could see it coming. They weren't even offering at it. Now they swing at the change because they don't see any difference."
John Klima is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.