Atlanta, GA, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Chris Volstad reacts to allowing a home run against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field. Credit: Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE
Sixth, fourth, first, sixth, first, second, sixth, second, fifth.
2, 4, 4, 4, 4, 3, 5, 3, 5.
This is not a math lesson. Those are lists of:
- The inning in which Chris Volstad gave up multiple runs in each of his nine starts, and
- The number of runs allowed in that multi-run inning.
Seems to me it's time to declare this experiment over, although with Casey Coleman exiled to Iowa on Tuesday, Volstad will have to start one more time (Sunday against the Mets in New York). The Cubs lost to the Braves 10-3 Tuesday night in Atlanta, following a rain delay of almost an hour, and once again, after pitching pretty well for four innings, Volstad fell apart in the fifth. He allowed five runs, and though at a 6-3 deficit the Cubs had a chance to come back and win, the bullpen pair of Rafael Dolis and Jairo Asencio took care of that with six walks allowed in three innings of work. Result: four runs and a blowout loss.
The Cubs had fashioned a 3-1 lead due mostly to some sketchy Atlanta defense; a Dan Uggla error helped lead to a three-run third inning. That lasted until Volstad blew up in the fifth. Why is this happening? Clearly, Volstad does have talent; he can pitch many scoreless innings in almost every start (the exception to the rule was his first start of this season, April 9 against the Brewers, where he gave up single runs in the first, third and fourth before a two-run sixth -- but even then, the game was tied 3-3 until that sixth inning).
The 25-year-old said Monday he'd learned to "relax" at Iowa and had a new attitude about bad outings, saying "it's not life or death."
Manager Dale Sveum was glad to hear Volstad worked on the mental side, saying before Tuesday's game that they had addressed the issue in late May before he was sent to Iowa.
"I think he realized that and when he got sent down we talked about it, about the confidence and sometimes his body language," Sveum said. "All of that kind of stuff has got to get better. When body language gets bad, your confidence isn't very good.
"The mental part of this game for most guys is everything. Most guys have the ability. What they do with that ability mentally is what the key is up here."
Whatever he worked on at Iowa, the lesson appeared to be completely lost on Volstad Tuesday night. This outing didn't look any different from any of the others. Chipper Jones had a five-hit game (not all of them off Volstad, though), his first in 10 years, and also stole his first base of the season (that one was off Volstad).
Just to show you how damaging those blowup innings are for Volstad, they account for 8⅓ of his season total of 45⅓ innings (he finished all of those innings except for the one on Tuesday night). His earned-run totals thus split out this way:
In his 8⅓ bad innings: 36 runs, 34 earned runs, 36.72 ERA
In his 37 other innings: six runs, all earned, 1.54 ERA
So basically, Volstad is the worst pitcher in baseball (by a huge margin) in his bad innings, and a potential Cy Young award winner in the others -- which account for 82 percent of his total innings this year. If he could just get over that psychological barrier, he could be at the very least a good major-league pitcher.
It didn't figure to last much longer anyway; the Cubs' brief four-game winning streak came to an end. Ater the All-Star break I assume Volstad will be sent back to Iowa when Ryan Dempster is activated from the disabled list. There, he can go work on that body language and whatever other lessons didn't appear to stick. The Cubs probably also have to think about what to do with Dolis and Asencio, both of whom also have talent but who have to stop walking people in order to stick in the major leagues.