Cubs’ utility arm Carlos Villanueva ready to help wherever he’s needed
BY MARK POTASH firstname.lastname@example.org March 7, 2013 10:16PM
Updated: April 9, 2013 12:01PM
MESA, Ariz. — Matt Garza’s injury and Scott Baker’s extended rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery figure to give Carlos Villanueva a spot in the Cubs’ starting rotation to begin the regular season. But the six-year major-league veteran doesn’t see it as his big chance.
He’s a manager’s dream — a pitcher who embraces the utility role.
‘‘Maybe last year it was more important for me [to start] because I was going into free agency,’’ said Villanueva, who was 7-7 with a 4.16 ERA in 38 appearances (16 starts) for the Toronto Blue Jays last season. ‘‘Now I’m here — hopefully for two years and beyond.
‘‘Whatever they need from me . . . I just want us to have the five best guys out there. Hopefully that includes me. If not, I’ll chip in whenever I can.’’
Villanueva allowed two runs, six hits and no walks in four innings in an 8-3 loss to the White Sox on Thursday at HoHoKam Stadium.
Villanueva has started 56 games (16-22, 4.80 ERA) and relieved in 245 (17-13, 3.76 ERA, six saves).
‘‘Tell me when to take the ball, and I’ll take the ball,’’ he said. ‘‘I think it’s better because you have less time to think.’’
‘‘He’s the kind of guy you can count on to do anything,’’ said Cubs manager Dale Sveum, who was a coach with the Brewers when Villanueva was in Milwaukee.
‘‘If you have a couple of guys like that, it’s very valuable — especially in the National League when you have to pitch two innings a lot.’’
Sveum was encouraged by Baker’s two-inning simulated-game outing in which he ‘‘let it go’’ for the first time and hit 89 mph on the radar gun.
Baker, who missed the entire 2012 season, is scheduled to open the season on the disabled list but return in mid-April.
‘‘He did fine,’’ Sveum said. ‘‘He let it go today a lot more and felt good, finished good. So it all went really well, especially that second inning when he cranked it up a little bit. He was probably 80 to 85 percent and still got to 87, 89 in the last inning.’’
Sveum said the big test will be to see how Baker’s arm responds Friday.
‘‘It’s a big issue — after letting six to 10 fastballs go because he hasn’t really let it go like that,’’ Sveum said. ‘‘We’ll wait and see and find out how he reacted to that.’’
Carlos Marmol allowed one run (unearned) and one hit with two walks, a strikeout and a wild pitch in two-thirds of an inning against the Sox. He was taken out with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh because of pitch-count concerns, Sveum said.
Conor Gillaspie hit a ground-rule double and reached third base on Brent Morel’s bouncer when Christian Villanueva dropped Marmol’s throw.
‘‘He’s out of the inning if we catch the ball at third base,’’ Sveum said. ‘‘[Marmol] was just kind of missing with his slider. Fastball was just missing. It wasn’t like he was awful. The last guy [Steve Tolleson] laid off some pretty good sliders down and in. A lot of guys would swing at it. He had a pretty good at-bat.’’
Single-game tickets for the 2013 season will go on sale at 7 a.m. Friday at Wrigley Field — via wristband only, beginning with wristband No. 12511.
Fans with wristband Nos. 12511 through 17509 should come to the Captain Morgan Club to purchase tickets.