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Classic starts prepped Volquez for Opening Day

Padres right-hander gets honor of third consecutive first-game nod

Classic starts prepped Volquez for Opening Day play video for Classic starts prepped Volquez for Opening Day

In going about deciding on an Opening Day starting pitcher, the Padres looked at several factors, one of which was the ability to handle the hoopla that surrounds pitching on the first day of the regular season.

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Ultimately, the team choose right-hander Edinson Volquez, who will make his third career Opening Day start when the Padres face the Mets on Monday at Citi Field.

"We think he has the experience and the mentality to handle the day and treat it like any other start," said Padres manager Bud Black.

And it can be argued that Volquez's start against the Mets will pale in comparison to the stress of the starts he made for his country, the Dominican Republic, in the World Baseball Classic.

"Pitching in such an intense series definitely helped me," Volquez said. "It felt as big as the World Series in the Caribbean. And putting pressure on yourself early is a good thing if you can control it. It helps you prepare for the start of the regular season."

The Padres are counting on big things in 2013 from Volquez, who started on Opening Day in 2011 with the Reds and last season with the Padres.

"I'm excited about Opening Day No. 3. It's a big honor," Volquez said. "I can't wait for that first game in New York. I've been blessed to have these opportunities. It's a big moment, and it's pretty emotional.

"There will be some adrenaline in the moment, but that goes away when you take control of the game and start making pitches."

A year ago, Volquez led the National League in walks (105) but made all but one of his starts (32) and lowered his ERA from the previous season from 5.71 to 4.14. He tossed a one-hit shutout against the Astros but also had starts with command a fleeting thing as his walks per nine innings figure was 5.2.

"He had a good year last year, but not a great year as far as his talent goes," said Padres pitching coach Darren Balsley. "If he cut down on his walks per nine innings to three, he can be a very good pitcher. He can do that. He made a few mechanical changes before the WBC that he's stuck with."

Volquez appeared in three games in the Classic and was the winning pitcher in a semifinal victory over the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Balsley watched each of Volquez's starts and not just to make sure he was healthy as he wanted to see if the mechanical changes the two worked on in February held firm.

They did.

"He's been on top of the rubber and had his cleat hooked on it, like a sprinter on the blocks. That caused him to be low on his back leg," Balsley said. "I wanted him to be taller and more upright. When he does that, he throws more strikes.

"Edinson stuck with it. I know he was a little wild in the beginning of his starts in the WBC, but as time went by, he threw a lot of strikes, especially with his secondary pitches."

Volquez has been amenable to mechanical fixes since he joined the Padres for the first time last spring in Arizona. The team worked on shortening his stride in an effort to help with his command. And for as good as Volquez's best pitch, the changeup, is, Balsley hammered on him to be better with his fastball, locating it down and way.

That's the Balsley way, the Padres way. If you want to be part of the staff, you've got to command the fastball low and away. At times last season, Volquez was good with that. At other times he struggled. Some of his struggles occurred early in games.

"But you have to let it go after an inning and get back to it," Volquez said.

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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{"event":["opening_day" ] }
{"event":["opening_day" ] }