CHICAGO -- It's not often that a starting pitcher enters his first start of the season, only five games into the year, with two losses and 13.50 ERA. But that was the case with Carlos Villanueva.
Villanueva won the Chicago Cubs fifth starter spot out of spring but has been a swing man throughout his career. With the Cubs suffering through two long, extra-inning games early in the season, Villanueva was called upon to help the team out and throw in relief. In both cases he gave up a lone run and was hung with the loss.
"It's too early for that," Villanueva said of looking at his statistics. "I've learned, with time, that looking at the stats, reading a lot -- you guys write nice things too, sometimes -- it doesn't help. A lot of people have a lot of opinions. The numbers are there. I'm a guy, I check my numbers twice a year, All-Star break and the end of the season. I try not to let that influence how I feel, because I'm a feel guy when it comes to pitching, emotional. I don't want to bring myself down by looking at the high number and when it's going well, you don't want to get too cocky. For me, what mattered today was we got a win."
Manager Rick Renteria told him not to worry about the two losses early on, but Villanueva said it wasn’t something that bothered him. Earlier in his career, he said it likely would have rattled him, but he's matured since then.
"You take the positive out of it," Villanueva said. "Hey, I only gave up two runs, that's how I saw it. Now I got a chance to contribute in today's start, you have to forget about it."
Villanueva did just that by pitching five solid innings, giving up only one run and six hits while striking out three. The outing lowered Villanueva's ERA to a much more respectable 4.26 and gave the Cubs starting pitchers a 1.93 ERA through six games.
Villanueva continued to display his poise on the mound when he remained unfazed by a Starlin Castro error in the fourth. With one down and two men on, Carlos Ruiz hit what appeared to be a tailor-made double play, but Castro was unable to record an out. Villanueva calmly retired the next two batters without allowing a run to score.
"Quite frankly, I was impressed about how he did that more than anything," Renteria said. "Just like Jeff [Samardzija] the other day did in pitching out of jams and not letting something happen and all of a sudden you let the air out of the balloon. So what? He kept pitching, he kept us in the game and the guys continued to contribute."
The loquacious Villanueva said he wasn't about to allow one mistake to derail his start.
"You have a choice there," Villanueva said. "Get upset and let it rattle your or you pick him up. [Castro's] playing his butt off out there, they all are, obviously I know he's not trying to make an error. I've talked a lot to Starlin and he's worked really hard to improve his defense. The best thing I can do there is pick him up, make sure he knows I'm not upset with him and hopefully he gets another one so he makes himself feel better. I'm glad it worked out that inning."