Edinson Volquez overcomes injury scare, odds to throw MLB's first no-hitter in over a year

0:40 | MLB
Edinson Volquez throws no-hitter for Marlins
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Sunday June 4th, 2017

The first no-hitter of 2017 displayed a keen sense of dramatic timing, and belongs to the pitcher with more losses thus far this season than anyone in baseball. Thirty-three-year-old Marlins righty Edinson Volquez allowed just two walks in a complete game shutout of the Diamondbacks, and he did it all in only 98 pitches. All that after tweaking his ankle in a collision with a baserunner and barely making it past the first batter of the game.

After it was all over, once Volquez struck out the side in the ninth inning and was mobbed by his giddy teammates, doused in Gatorade and hit with not one but two cream pies, he dedicated the win to the two great young pitchers baseball lost in the last year: Miami ace Jose Fernandez, and Volquez’s friend and Royals teammate Yordano Ventura, who would have turned 26 on Saturday had he not been killed in a January car crash.

Volquez has had an uneven season following a rough 2016. Going into Saturday’s game, he had been both erratic and unlucky, with a 4.44 ERA and a 1–7 record; he’d been walking 5.3 men per nine innings, with a WHIP of 1.576. Last season he had a 5.37 ERA for the Royals and gave up more earned runs, 113, than anyone else in the league.

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So a no-hitter wasn’t on anyone’s mind as Saturday’s game got underway—especially once Volquez hurt his ankle in a bruising collision at first base with Arizona outfielder Rey Fuentes, the very first batter of the game. Volquez came up limping and had to work to persuade manager Don Mattingly to let him stay in the game; indeed, he continued visibly limping even as the zeros piled up.

The Diamondbacks aren’t a particularly easy team to no-hit: They’re third in the NL in both hits and runs scored, though that’s partly a product of the hitter-friendly nature of Chase Field. Even going by OPS+, which adjusts for ballpark, Arizona’s offense is in the top half of NL teams.

But the control that has often eluded Volquez this season showed up in force Saturday. Volquez relied primarily on his sinker and his changeup, which he placed just where he wanted it, regardless of the count. Of his 98 pitches, 36 were changeups and another 23 were knuckle-curves, and Arizona was helpless against his breaking stuff.

Volquez’s low pitch count gave him another kind of accomplishment—a “Maddux,” a term coined by writer Jason Lukehart to describe a complete-game shutout that requires less than 100 pitches (named in honor of Greg, of course). Volquez became just the 10th hurler since pitch counts have been tracked to combine a Maddux with a no-hitter. The last one to do it was also the last Marlin to throw a no-hitter: Henderson Alvarez, in the very last game of the 2013 season, a memorably odd one that the Marlins won via walk-off on a wild pitch.

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This was MLB’s 296th no-hitter, and the first since the Cubs’ Jake Arrietta pulled one off against the Reds in April 2016—the sole no-hitter of last season, after a cluster of seven in 2015. The Marlins came close to a combined no-hitter against the Mariners back in April, but lost it with one out in the ninth. Unlike Wei-Yin Chen in that start, Volquez kept his pitch count so low that Mattingly, who’s often shown an itchy trigger finger when it comes to bringing in relievers in no-hit and perfect game situations once his starters get to triple digits, was never tempted to take him out.

As rough as the last several seasons have been, Volquez has had his share of good years (most recently 2014 in Pittsburgh, where he became another Ray Searage success story, and 2015 in Kansas City). His Game 1 World Series start for the ’15 Royals was an indelible, emotional performance, just hours after learning of the death of his father. Saturday’s game was on a different scale—just a run-of-the-mill June matchup between two third-place teams, with little reason to expect drama. But drama showed up anyway, along with an unhittable changeup, and in Fernandez’s home park, on Ventura’s birthday, Volquez dug deep and came up with another performance that no one present is likely to forget.

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