Villanueva joins Cubs rotation SundayContinue reading.
Villanueva rotation spot in jeopardy?
DENVER – After three starts into his trade-imposed return to the Cubs’ rotation, Carlos Villanueva could be on a short leash for keeping that job for the rest of the season.
And two-batter sequences like he faced in a two-on, two-out situation in Saturday’s fourth inning won’t help his cause.
“That really turned the game around,” manager Dale Sveum said of a walk on a 3-2 slider to pitcher Juan Nicasio that loaded the bases, followed by a 3-2 fastball that leadoff man Dexter Fowler turned into a three-run triple.
“That’s a little backwards,” Sveum added. “I think it turned the whole momentum around in the whole game.”
The Cubs led 1-0 until that sequence, and Villanueva – who wasn’t sharp in general – couldn’t get an out in the fifth as the Cubs went on to lose 9-3.
Asked if the pitch selection was on both Villanueva and catcher Welington Castillo, Sveum said, “It’s not coming from the dugout. It’s not something we stress in our game planning. … It was all set up just to get the pitcher out and it was smooth sailing from then. And then obviously the floodgates open and everything just fell apart.”
Villanueva refused to blame the pitch selection, saying he trusts himself.
“If I make a better pitch, he’s out,” he said. “It’ll be second-guesssed a lot, and a lot of things I do get second-guessed. But I’m not going to second-guess myself.”
Maybe putting the Rockies in his rear-view mirror will make the bigger difference. He’s given up 14 runs in nine innings over two losses to the Rockies this year – going 2-4 with a 2.99 ERA against everybody else.
Regardless, he could be facing a season crossroads for his role with the club over the final two months of the season.
Villanueva opened the season in the rotation and after a strong start was replaced in May when Matt Garza returned from the disabled list. He returned to the rotation after Scott Feldman was traded to Baltimore July 2.
Asked if Villanueva will be an important part of things down the stretch for the team, given its plans to trade Garza, Sveum said, “He’ll be very important. But there was zero fastball command. He got through the first few innings, but there was still no fastball command at all. He’s got to be able to dot his fastball up a lot more than he has so that his breaking stuff is going to be a lot more effective.”
If not? The Cubs have newly acquired Jake Arrieta at AAA Iowa, awaiting the Cubs debut the front office has had in mind for him since getting him in the Feldman deal.
Even with Garza gone from the rotation, there won’t be room for Arrieta and Villanueva both if/when Scott Baker makes his anticipated return from Tommy John surgery in August.
“Yeah, that’s the stuff we talk about,” Sveum said, “but we’re not jumping to any conclusions right now.”