Villanueva surprised by start
“You don’t have to be a brain surgeon,” Brewers reliever-turned-starter Carlos Villanueva just told reporters, to figure out that he could be a placeholder while team officials work behind the scenes to bolster the starting rotation ahead of Friday’s nonwaiver trade deadline.
Villanueva was the Brewers’ surprising choice to start Tuesday’s game against the Nationals after the team demoted the right-hander who had previously occupied that spot — Mike Burns — to Triple-A Nashville. For now, Villanueva, who has made his last 81 appearances in relief since making what was expected to be a permanent switch to the bullpen last May, is viewing it as a one-time assignment.
He knows that general manager Doug Melvin has been burning up the phones trying to work a sensible trade for a starter.
“I know what we’re doing. I know we’re trying to improve our team,” Villanueva said. “Whatever I can do to help [on Tuesday], I’ll be glad with that. After that, I can’t really worry about the future right now. You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to feel like if they can find a way to improve the team, it’s a possibility.
“Right now, they chose me. I’m ready for the opportunity.”
Some of Villanueva’s fellow bullpen mates told him Sunday that they read online he was a candidate to start, but Villanueva didn’t believe it. He thought manager Ken Macha was just “taking some heat” off newly-promoted righty Tim Dillard, who was 10-4 with a 3.66 ERA in 19 starts for Triple-A Nashville.
Villanueva’s tune changed on Monday afternoon, when he was summoned to Macha’s office and handed the assignment.
“Yeah, it was [a surprise],” Villanueva said. “I really thought that [Dillard] was going to start. But he called me into the office and told me I was going to go tomorrow, and I’m just thankful for the opportunity.”
Villanueva’s longest outing this season was his 56-pitch, three-inning stint against the Pirates on July 20. He has thrown one inning or fewer in 37 of his 43 appearances.
“I haven’t heard anything about a pitch count,” Villanueva said. “It’s going to be interesting to see” how deep he can work into the game.
Villanueva drew a comparison to 2007, when he made 52 of his first 53 appearances in relief before moving to the starting rotation on Sept. 4 because of injuries to Claudio Vargas and Manny Parra. In that start against the Astros, Villanueva threw 95 pitches and allowed only one run on five hits in six innings of a 7-3 Brewers win.
It’s unclear whether Macha will let him throw that many pitches on Tuesday.
“I always knew I could [start],” Villanueva said. “I was able to help out more in the bullpen last year, but with [Dave] Bush on the DL and now [Seth] McClung on the DL … I just think, ‘give me the ball.’”
In 43 games, Villanueva is 2-7 with a 6.18 ERA. He posted 15 consecutive scoreless appearances from May 5-June 6, but since then has allowed 20 earned runs in 16 2/3 innings over 17 games for a 10.80 ERA. Most of the damage in that span was done over six bad outings in which he allowed 16 earned runs in 2 2/3 innings.
“Obviously, it’s been an up-and-down season,” Villanueva said. “I’ve been staying strong, mentally. I’m feeling the same confidence in myself I’ve had every single year I’ve been here. … I think I can help the team out. I’ve helped the team out before, and it’s been disappointing not to help recently.”
You can read Macha’s comments about the decision to go with Villanueva in Cash’s blog post.