Versatile Villanueva will be Cubs' 5th starter

  • Cubs starting pitcher Carlos Villanueva won the job as the team's fifth starter. How long that lasts is anyone's guess because Villanueva is also a valuable asset in the bullpen.

    Cubs starting pitcher Carlos Villanueva won the job as the team's fifth starter. How long that lasts is anyone's guess because Villanueva is also a valuable asset in the bullpen. Associated Press

Updated 3/29/2014 12:18 AM

PHOENIX -- Perhaps one day in his role as a union player representative, Carlos Villanueva can take up a new cause.

"Hopefully, I can be one of those people that advocates, that fights for the rights of the swing guy," Villanueva said Friday at Chase Field as the Cubs got set to take on the Arizona Diamondbacks.


Villanueva received the good news that he has been named the Cubs' fifth starting pitcher. That came at the expense of left-hander Chris Rusin, who was informed he would open the year at Class AAA Iowa.

This is nothing new for the 30-year-old Villanueva. He began last year in the starting rotation and was bumped to the bullpen when Matt Garza came off the disabled list. In all, he made 47 appearances in 2013 for the Cubs, 15 starts.

"It's not different than it's been the last five years," he said. "There's not much I can say. I'm ready to pitch. I think I've done it all this spring.

"I've relieved, and I've started and I was back to relieve last time. I'll probably be in the (bull)pen the first couple of days, and I'm going to start again.

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"That's just the title of my job. I guess I'm the swing man."

The door could swing the other way on Villanueva at some point in late April or whenever right-hander Jake Arrieta is ready to come back from the shoulder injury that has slowed him all spring training.

As of now, the first go-round of the rotation looks like this: Jeff Samardzija will open the regular season Monday in Pittsburgh. After an off-day Tuesday, Edwin Jackson and Jason Hammel will close out the series against the Pirates.

Travis Wood will start the April 4 Wrigley Field opener against the Phillies, and Samardzija will come back on April 5, on normal rest. Villanueva will make his first start on Sunday, April 6.

Manager Rick Renteria said Villanueva's versatility played a role in him getting the nod for the No. 5 spot.

"Obviously, he's been in that role," Renteria said. "He's been a pretty good performer for the Cubbies. He's kept us in situations where we needed to use him. He's done well."


In the first two years of the regime led by team president Theo Epstein, the Cubs have opened the season with respectable starting rotations, only to trade off pieces as they've fallen out of contention. Renteria seems to like what he has going into the regular season.

"I think our rotation will hold up compared to others," the manager said. "We have experience. We have some strength in the front end and experience at the back end."

Things are likely to change, both for Villanueva and the Cubs. During his major-league career, Villanueva has appeared in 348 games, starting 71. Asked why he's able to do it and others aren't, he had a simple answer.

"I wasn't blessed with a blazing fastball," he said. "But so far, I've been blessed with a healthy arm. It starts there. I'm able to bounce back.

"You don't come up wanting to be that guy. When you come up in the big leagues, you're thinking about, 'I'm going to be an all-star. I'm going to be another No. 1, a No. 2 guy.'

"But the years go by, and there's no denying, the stats don't lie. That's what I've done the last three or four years: 13 to 15 starts and 30 games out of the pen and a good job."

• Follow Bruce's Cubs and baseball reports via Twitter@BruceMiles2112.


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