Even though he's been back in the Cubs' rotation for just 2 starts, Carlos Villanueva feels like he has his starter's groove back.
Villanueva was the losing pitcher in Friday's 3-2 loss to the Cardinals at Wrigley Field, but he pitched 6 solid innings, giving up 4 hits and 2 runs, both coming in the first inning.
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He started the season in the rotation but was bumped to the bullpen in late May when Matt Garza came off the disabled list. When Scott Feldman was traded to Baltimore recently, Villanueva found his way back into the rotation.
"I felt pretty good," said Villanueva, who is 2-5 with a 3.59 ERA. "Even when I'm in the bullpen, I'm never out of it. If I'm in the bullpen, I can always go back, (like) the hundreds of times I've done it before.
"You don't want to say it's like a light switch, but when it comes to that at least, I feel like I can adapt real well and quick. I'd say 'quick' is more accurate."
The Cubs came within a run in the third. St. Louis scored a big insurance run in the seventh against reliever Matt Guerrier. But as far as Villanueva goes, manager Dale Sveum was more than happy.
"It was perfect," said Sveum, whose team fell to 41-50. "Six innings, right at 90 pitches. Obviously, he settled down after the first inning, and everything got much sharper. He did a great job."
Castro finding it again:
Shortstop Starlin Castro hit a solo homer in the eighth inning to bring the Cubs within 3-2. Castro appears to be out of a prolonged hitting funk.
He went 2-for-3 Friday and has six multihit games in his last 16 overall, going 20-for-67 (.299) in that stretch.
"I feel very good," he said. "I feel aggressive. I'm working hard. I'm looking for fastballs every time and trying to hit the ball the other way. Stay closed. Don't open."
Dale Sveum said he notices a couple of things.
"He has the leg lift, but now I think he's using the leg lift for the purpose it's meant to be," Sveum said. "He's getting on his back side now. His knee is getting over his back foot. He's not front forward. It gives you the ability to use your hands and get to a fastball."
The Cubs say they will open up the post-all-star break portion of the season with Jeff Samardzija, Carlos Villanueva and Edwin Jackson starting the three games in Colorado. When the Cubs travel to Arizona after that, Matt Garza and Travis Wood will start the first two games, respectively.
It's always possible Garza (who starts Saturday night against the Cardinals) will be traded by then. Team president Theo Epstein addressed the trade talks Friday, but without getting specific.
"Obviously, he's throwing extremely well and he's very healthy and there are teams out there looking for pitching who are going to call and try to acquire him," Epstein said. "He's helping us win games now. There's a chance to possibly retain him beyond this year, so we'll just balance all that out and do what's best for the organization.
"There's a lot of (trade) chatter going on right now. I wouldn't say anything major is imminent. There's a lot of talk, and we'll continue to stay abreast with what other teams are trying to do as their situation changes."