When it came to appointing a starting pitcher for Game 1 of the National League Division Series, Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker freely admitted that he did not have the "three clear-cut choices" that the Phillies have.
"You could put [Roy] Halladay and [Roy] Oswalt and [Cole] Hamels in a hat and put your hand in there and you'd come up with a No. 1," Baker said yesterday at his news conference at Citizens Bank Park. "We have guys that are approaching No. 1. We have quite a few of them."
So Baker selected . . . Edinson Volquez.
Volquez will square off against NL Cy Young Award candidate Roy Halladay, who this year has only won 21 games, pitched a perfect game and walked fewer batters (30) than his total number of appearances (33).
But if there would appear to be a gulf in ability between the two pitchers, Baker did not appear to be sweating it. Given the candidates he has available - which include rookie lefthander Travis Wood, who carried a perfect game into the ninth inning against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park in July - Baker said that Volquez is "pitching as well as anybody" and "gets lefthanders out better than anybody we had." And when it comes to handling big-game pressure, Baker added that Volquez is a "calm, cool, good-time Charlie type" who should not be bothered by it.
The 27-year-old righthander has stood up under it before - only not here.
"He pitched some championship games in winter ball in the Dominican," Baker said. "Anybody that has been to Venezuela or the Dominican, Mexico or Puerto Rico [knows] that there is far more pressure there than there is here."
Volquez appeared delighted to be handed the opportunity by Baker. The last 2 years have been a challenge: He had Tommy John surgery in 2009 and this year received a 50-game suspension for violation of the performance-enhancing drug policy. While his overall numbers this year are just passable - he had a 4-3 record with a 4.31 earned run average – he closed the season with four very strong outings. He won three of them, including an eight-inning, three-hit effort at Milwaukee and a seven-inning, one-hit performance against Pittsburgh.
He also has a 2-0 record against the Phillies, both appearances coming last season, allowing one run in 12 1/3 innings.
Volquez said he expected it to be "kind of different" today than what he experienced in the Dominican, if only that he expected the crowd noise to be elevated.
"But I expect to be fine," Volquez said. He added that he spoke with teammate and Game 2 starter Bronson Arroyo, who pitched for the 2004 world champion Red Sox.
"He told me, 'Be yourself,' " said Volquez, who came to the Reds in the deal that sent Josh Hamilton to Texas in 2007. "[He said] 'Just pitch your game . . . Whatever happens, happens.' "
Volquez added the Reds are "a really confident team."
"We have a very good team," he said. "And we feel like we can beat any team."
Does he feel any added pressure facing Halladay?
Volquez just said he was going to have fun.
"This is the first game of the playoffs," he said. "Something big. Really big."