Volquez looks stellar in debut, Reds in good shape?

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The Reds, as a franchise, have enjoyed quite a breakout season.  Usually an afterthought by mid-June, they currently hold a half-game lead in the National League Central over the heavily favored Cardinals.  To boot, they’re even selling out games at Great American Ballpark in July.

Drew Stubbs has developed into a multi-talented threat at the top of the lineup with 17 stolen bases, 13 home runs and 46 RBI in 300 at-bats, Jay Bruce is finally showing better plate discipline, Joey Votto is leading all National Leaguers in OPS and rookie Mike Leake is 6-1 with a 3.53 ERA over his first 17 big league starts.  Now let’s add Edinson Volquez to the mix.

Volquez underwent Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery in August of 2009 and has spent the last year or so rehabbing.  On Saturday night in Cincinnati he made his 2010 debut against the Rockies and absolutely shut them down

Volquez tossed six strong innings and allowed only one earned run as the Reds snagged an 8-1 victory and held off the hard-charging Cards for one more day.  He struck out nine batters, allowed only three hits and issued only two walks.

It should come as no surprise, really, that Volquez looked so dominant.  He was excellent on a four-game rehab assignment prior to Saturday’s big debut, and he posted a 3.21 ERA and 201 strikeouts over 196 innings back in 2008, his first year with the Reds.  Now he’ll look to lift the club to its first playoff berth since 1995.

Pirates looking for outside outfield help

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Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that Pirates GM Neal Huntington is looking for outside outfield help in the wake of Starling Marte‘s 80-game suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs. With Marte out of the picture, the club moved Andrew McCutchen back to center field and have played Adam Frazier, John Jaso, and Jose Osuna in right field. But, as Brink points out, Osuna and Jaso — neither an outfielder by trade — misplayed balls over the weekend against the Yankees.

Among available free agents, the pickings are slim. There’s Coco Crisp, Jeff Francoeur, Cole Gillespie, Kelly Johnson, and Nolan Reimold (who is currently in independent baseball). The Pirates may have to find themselves a trade partner. They could also try to talk Angel Pagan back into action, as the veteran outfielder recently said he’s taking the year off. The Pirates could also look at Leonys Martin, who was recently designated for assignment by the Mariners.

Matt Barnes ejected after throwing at Manny Machado’s head

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On Friday, tension between the Orioles and Red Sox rose when Manny Machado spiked Dustin Pedroia sliding into second base. Although the umpires found no fault with Machado’s slide, third base coach Brian Butterfield was later ejected, still feeling like Machado wronged the Red Sox. Pedroia exited the game and was not in the lineup on Saturday or Sunday. He’ll undergo an MRI for his left knee and ankle in Boston on Monday.

For what it’s worth, Pedroia didn’t seem to feel any bitterness towards Machado for his slide. As MLB.com’s Jeff Seidel reported, Pedroia said, “I don’t even know what the rule is. I’ve turned the best double play in the Major Leagues for 11 years. I don’t need a … rule. The rule’s irrelevant. The rule’s for people with bad footwork.”

Tempers flared between the Red Sox and Orioles again on Sunday. In the bottom of the eighth inning with a runner on first base and one out with the Red Sox leading 6-0, reliever Matt Barnes threw a first-pitch fastball up-and-in to Machado. The ball actually hit Machado’s bat, so it counted as a foul ball. Home plate umpire Andy Fletcher ejected Barnes and the Red Sox brought in Joe Kelly. Machado doubled on the first pitch Kelly threw to put the Orioles on the board, but the Orioles ultimately lost 6-2.

MASN’s broadcast later showed Pedroia talking to Machado, seemingly clarifying that Barnes acted of his own volition without encouragement from Pedroia. “You know that,” Pedroia appeared to say. “It wasn’t me. It’s them.”

Update: Pedroia even apologized to Machado and the Orioles, per Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal.

Commissioner Rob Manfred will likely look into Sunday’s incident. He could fine and/or suspend Barnes.

The Orioles and Red Sox meet again in Boston for a four-game series May 1-4. It will be interesting to see if the tension still remains then.