Inside Villanueva's three-hit performance

CINCINNATI -- To really appreciate Chicago Cubs pitcher Carlos Villanueva's performance Tuesday you have to go inside the numbers.

Villanueva threw 99 pitches, two as slow as 60 mph and at least one as fast as 90 while allowing three hits in 8 1/3 innings of the Cubs' 4-2 victory in 10 innings.

It's the second game this year he's dipped as low as 60 mph on a pitch and surprisingly the first time he's reached 90 mph.

"That's on purpose," Villanueva said. "Sometimes you have to change the eye level."

Villanueva's off-speed pitches have been a thing of beauty to watch over the first month of the season. He keeps going slower and slower with them.

"He's just one of those unique guys that can make a ball, with arm speed, slow up that much," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "That's hard to come by ... It's not like you can sit there and time it because the next one might be 4 mph slower. His fastball command is good too."

With a fastball that can only reach 90 mph at its best, Villanueva has to slow things down more than most so the contrast in speeds remains. Against the Reds on Tuesday it worked to perfection. Hitters were 1-for-20 in at-bats that ended with an off-speed pitch.

Here's the breakdown:

  • Changeup: 0-for-11, 2 Ks

  • Curveball: 1-for-3, 1 K

  • Slider: 0-for-6, 3 Ks

Catchers like being behind the plate for Villanueva since he doesn't throw hard but it can be a challenge calling a game. Dioner Navarro says Villanueva's pattern is always changing. In other words, he has no pattern.

"It can be a little bit complicated getting on the same page," Navarro said.

But in the end it comes together just fine as Villanueva has been as successful as any pitcher in baseball with a 1.53 ERA and 0.75 WHIP.

"He just has the ability to speed up his arm and slow it down," Sveum said. "Quick-pitch people. He has deceptiveness with how quick he can get into his windup and throw."

As for those two 60 mph curveballs he threw on Tuesday, they were the second-slowest thrown in baseball this season (Paul Maholm) and technically one dipped to 59.7. Joey Votto and Shin-Soo Choo were the recipients in the fourth and sixth innings.

"Was surprising, they both swung at it," Villanueva said.

Votto fouled it off while Choo singled off the slow curve.

"Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't," Villanueva said smiling.