Thursday, April 18, 2013
Villanueva might be Cubs' best starter
By Jesse Rogers
CHICAGO -- Forget about his past label as reliever, Chicago Cubs pitcher Carlos Villanueva might just be more than a No. 5 starter.
After another stellar performance on Thursday in which he allowed two runs over seven innings in a 6-2 win over the Texas Rangers, Villanueva has established himself as arguably the Cubs best starter so far.
"I know what's in him and how he can pitch to a game plan," manager Dale Sveum said. "With his ability to throw four pitches and change speeds with his breaking ball, you're talking getting people out and keeping slugging percentage to a minimum."
The day started out as a question mark as the rain pounded Wrigley Field. Villanueva already had to endure Wednesday's postponed game, now he wasn't sure about Thursday. It let up just in time for it to start on time.
"I kept hearing it's (the rain) going to come at 1:35 p.m., it's going to come in the fourth inning, in the fifth inning," Villanueva said. "I said 'You know what, just don't tell me.' "
It's an important point because Villanueva is a preparation pitcher. He studies as much tape as anyone and mentally prepares the same. He won't speak to the media the day before his scheduled start. He's that locked in.
"I've had a good fastball," Villanueva said. "I'm feeling a little better every time out there. I think my fastball has a little more life in it. It's a combination of everything.
"It's repetition for me. Not try to overthrow. Which I do sometimes and the ball is flat and long home runs happen. It's just being consistent."
And this time he didn't have to sweat out any bullpen meltdowns. Despite a 1.29 ERA Villanueva has just one win. He's conscious of his stereotype as a reliever and since he signed with the Cubs in the offseason he's made a point of saying he's a starter.
"It doesn't really matter what I think," he said. "It matters what I can do to help the team win. Obviously right now the best chance I have of helping the team out is in a starting role. If that would change tomorrow, if I complain I'll complain behind closed doors. I'm pretty understanding. I've done it my whole career. But right now we need somebody to cover some innings. That's what I'm most satisfied with."
Carlos Marmol pitched his fifth straight clean inning on Thursday getting the last three batters, though it wasn't a save situation.
"We're just going to continue to keep it the way it is,"Sveum said of closer-by-committee. "If the lefties were coming up in the ninth inning I would have saved (James) Russell for the ninth."
Sveum was pleased at how well Wrigley Field drained after two days of rain. "Credit to whoever put the field together and drainage system,"he said. Roger Baird and his grounds crew deserve the recognition.
"We could have cashed it in with the weather and everything but everybody kept focused." -- Anthony Rizzo, on the conditions.
"It's one of those things, got a good swing, good pitch to hit and didn't try to do too much with it and got a good result out of it." -- Rizzo on hitting the longest home run in baseball this season (475 feet) in the third inning.