Thursday, May 19, 2011 at 12:12 PM
In his second full season in the Red Sox organization, Kendal Volz is transitioning into a full-time bullpen role with the Salem Red Sox after working as a starter in 2010 with the Greenville Drive. It’s a role that Volz has filled in the past – although he almost exclusively started during his collegiate career with the Baylor Bears, Volz spent the summer before his junior season as the closer for the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team, which also featured such top arms as Stephen Strasburg, Kyle Gibson, Mike Leake, and Mike Minor. Volz was dominant as Team USA’s top fireman, allowing just one unearned run in 13 appearances, allowing 6 hits and 5 walks while striking out 16 batters in 14.0 innings. The Red Sox hope that a return to the bullpen will yield similar results for the 6’5” Texan, and early returns are promising, with Volz posting a 3.05 ERA in 20.2 innings, notching 22 punch-outs and giving up just 17 hits and 6 walks in 12 appearances. I got the chance to chat with Volz before a recent game at Salem’s Lewis-Gale Field, and asked him about switching roles, his off-day routine, and working with major leaguers in his hometown.
Chris Hatfield: This year, you’ve transitioned back into a bullpen role, something you’ve had experience with in the past from your time on Team USA. How has that transition been for you this year?
Kendal Volz: I like it. I told (Salem Pitching Coach) Kevin Walker and (Minor League Pitching Coordinator) Ralph (Treuel) – they asked in spring training with (Vice President/Player Development and Amateur Scouting) Mike Hazen what I thought about it, and I told them I didn’t really care. It’s two different scenarios. I like the routine as a starting pitcher, but I like the role of a reliever, coming out and throwing strikes right away, and that hasn’t really been too difficult for me. I enjoyed being out of the bullpen with the USA team, and I got a lot of good experience with that. It made me better as a pitcher. But yeah, I’ve enjoyed it so far.
CH: Do you have any preference between starting and relieving?
KV: No, I really don’t. I just like to pitch. That’s what it’s about for me. I’m having fun this year and enjoying it.
CH: Was that call made by you or the team, and if it was the team, do you know what went into it to make the switch now?
KV: It came from them, it wasn’t me, but I would assume it was just for down the road, they could see me having a better chance of making it to the big leagues in the bullpen. That might just maximize the stuff I have, and being able to throw strikes is a big reason why.
CH: At this level of the minors, what exactly is a bullpen role? It’s not like you’re going to throw back-to-back games necessarily. How much of a routine is there, and how far ahead of time do you know if you’re getting into a game?
KV: It’s not like the big leagues in the way that if your arm feels good, you’re good to go that night. If we’ll throw a couple innings, they’re going to make sure we have at least a day off, maybe two depending on how the games go. Usually, you’ll throw two innings, then have two games off. But some days you’ll have shorter rest if they need you, some days you’ll have longer rest if the starters go longer. They have us regimented on what they want us to do, but they don’t really tell us, they want us to get used to that spur-of-the-moment phone call down – it could be me, it could be someone else.
CH: How about between appearances, what do you guys do for your day-off regimen?
KV: We have the same throwing program. I guess the intensity varies from pitcher to pitcher, what works for them. Some guys like to take it easy between games, other guys like to really let it go, let it fly. It’s what works for them. And we have our team workout days. The running and all that, it’s different from a starter routine, but it’s not too much different. You’re always going to run and get your blood flowing, you’re going to get your throws in, but it’s just how much running, how much working out, how much throwing – it’s different from there in that it’s shorter.
CH: How about for you? Will you throw a bullpen or something?
KV: Well, say I threw on Monday, on Wednesday I’ll throw some front toss, where the catcher’s out in front of the plate, for maybe ten pitches, and then be ready to throw Wednesday or Thursday.
CH: We’ve mentioned Team USA, where you were the team’s closer. A lot of your buzz coming out of college came from that summer when you were pitching for them. You’ve mentioned that you learned a lot from that experience. Was there anything in particular that you picked up that summer, or anything that sticks out about that experience?
KV: That was just a blessing to play with those guys and that team. Really, playing with those guys, you elevate your game because everyone else is looking to get better. There’s nothing in particular – you pick up a little of this and a little of that – but the thing for me that summer was coming into a game and not having to hold back with any of your pitches, being able to throw all three right away. I’d probably be getting only three outs, so I’d be throwing everything I had at hitters right away, not having to throw fastball-fastball then maybe throwing out a different pitch. Having to do that, and having to not ease into the inning, you can’t throw a couple of bad breaking balls or changeups because you might walk a guy, but having to be on top of the game right away, I think that was the biggest key for me that summer; learning how to do that.
CH: You’ve talked a little about your arsenal. You throw a fastball, slider, and change. How do you like to use your pitches and mix them up, and how do you feel with all of them right now?
KV: They all feel great. There’s always stuff I could work on doing better, like getting out in front of pitches, maybe being more compact in my mechanics. But the fastball’s been great this year, changeup’s been great, slider’s been great. It’s just executing. That’s how it is moving up, just executing every time and minimizing those days you don’t feel great.
CH: You mentioned your mechanics a little bit. Has the team worked with you on tweaking mechanics or have they just been leaving them be? We hear different things for different players depending on what they need. How has the mechanical progression gone for you now that you’re in your second full season?
KV: Last year, Ralph was just kind of hands off letting me throw how I was for spring training in my first spring. They’d never seen me pitch before. Then they started giving me a couple tidbits of information that could help. A lot of it for me is staying over the rubber longer and staying more compact and not being so up straight and tall, being a little more athletic and down in a powerful position. Kevin Walker is a great pitching coach, and he’s out there with us every day staying on top of it. It’s helped a lot going out there and doing all that early work, doing those repetitions that aren’t in a game or aren’t in the bullpen, all the dry work with towels and that sort of stuff.
CH: Kevin Walker was with you last year in Greenville as well. Coming up, you can sometimes have four different coaches at four different levels. Has it helped having that continuity this year with a guy who already knows what works for you and what doesn’t?
KV: Yeah, he’s a great pitching coach. It would be frustrating if he wasn’t a great pitching coach. But the thing with the Red Sox organization is up and down the ladder they’ve got guys that know what they’re doing. The thing about Walk, he’s 110-percent every day out there ready to help us. He gets pleasure out of seeing us do well and seeing progress in us. Even though he was with us last year, he’s pushing us more this year and continuing to work with us. And yeah, the fact that he kind of knew what we were working on last year, bringing it over into this year either moving past that and working on new stuff or staying on that old stuff we’re working on, that just helps a lot.
CH: With minor league baseball, a lot of fans don’t really know about that kind of stuff that goes on behind the scenes. If you were talking to a new fan of minor league baseball, what one thing would you want to tell them that they should know about that they typically wouldn’t? What should they know about whether about the lifestyle or playing 144 games a year that most fans wouldn’t understand but should?
KV: Probably that it’s not like we show up at the ballpark and just go play the game. Most of us roll into the ballpark around noon and don’t leave until eleven. Like today, we had a lift at twelve, so we had to be here at eleven. It’s not like you show up, do BP and get ready to play the game – a lot more goes into it time-wise. Like you said, it’s only a couple days off out of 144 or 140 games, and that’s what a lot of people don’t realize – it’s not like you just show up to the park and play. Also, there’s so many different levels now – you go home, and people will talk to you and say, “Are you at Triple-A or Double-A?” I have to be like, no, and explain it. And you moving up isn’t necessarily based on how well you’re doing. They have a plan for us, and they’re looking for us to go along with how they want us to get better.
CH: Kendal is actually your middle name. How’d you come to go by your middle name instead of William, your first name?
KV: My parents named me William Kendal knowing that I was going to be called Kendal. I always bug them about it because all that’s done is complicate things. When you’re younger, filling out standardized tests and things, do I put Kendal or William? Teachers trying to learn your name… yeah. My parents said “William Kendal” sounded better than “Kendal William.”
CH: You’re a native of Bulverde, Texas. If everything goes according to plan and you make the major leagues, you actually wouldn’t be the first major leaguer from Bulverde. Have you met Jason Larue?
KV: Yeah. Phillip Wellman is also from there. He was a Double-A coach with the Braves, and now he’s with the Cardinals. We’d go hit with them in the offseason over at Jason’s house. Jason’s a great guy. He wants to help all of us. I’ve got a buddy who’s in Double-A with the Angels that’s also from there (ed.’s note: outfielder Clay Fuller). I can’t say enough great things about (Jason). Getting to know him and just having him open up his batting cages and mound and whatnot and letting everyone there use it, it’s great.
CH: Does it make it seem like it’s more possible, knowing that someone has made the majors from there?
KV: Yeah, definitely. And you can talk to him about anything – how minor league ball was and the grind that is, and what some of the pitchers had in the big leagues that made them successful, and if they had offseason workouts and that sort of stuff. Not all baseball, but offseason stuff, different tidbits like that, but yeah, it’s been great having Jason there and just being a guy you could talk to.
CH: Going back a bit to when you signed out of Baylor, you signed at the August 15th deadline. How did those negotiations go? We’ve heard from some guys that literally at 11:55 they got the call with the team’s offer. How was your experience?
KV: After they picked me, they wanted to see me throw a few more times, so I took June off, and in July I went up to Cape Cod and pitched there. (Former Red Sox Director of Amateur Scouting) Jason McLeod came out a couple times, and (then-assistant director and current Director of Amateur Scouting) Amiel (Sawdaye) would come out too and watch me throw. I stayed out there until August. Besides that, they were talking to my advisor/agent, and just came to an agreement. I signed on the last day, but until then I was up in Boston getting my physical stuff done, MRIs and that sort of stuff. I signed, and the next day I flew from Boston out to Fort Myers and got started.
CH: In your time in the system, what teammate have you had that’s impressed you the most?
KV: (In college) I’d gotten to see Alex Wilson and Brandon Workman and I got to see (Anthony) Ranaudo at the Regionals in college, but I think Alex Wilson just has some great stuff. He’s just a really low-key guy. He’s a great locker room guy, he’ll help you out, do whatever. Really, our organization is filled with a ton of talent. It’s different than most organizations I think. You look at our lineup tonight and then you look at it compared to other lineups, there’s no holes. Some organizations, you look and see 7-8-9, they’re terrible. They’re just filling in, for someone I guess. But yeah, if I had to choose just one, I guess Alex, but really there’s a ton of guys.
CH: In your spare time and in the offseason, what do you like to do away from the park?
KV: I love to go hunting. I love to hunt and fish. Any weekend that my wife will let me, I go hunting. So I’d say that, and just hanging out with my wife. She’s in medical school at San Antonio Medical School. She just flew out today because she just finished up her semester, so she gets her first summer off. But she’s busy. So we do that and I just cross my fingers hoping that she’ll let me go down to the ranch on Friday and Saturday and spend the day.